By Steve Williams
With it being homecoming at Halls High School, there were plenty of signs on display prior to the football game against rival Gibbs.
One read: “Come on Red Devils. Roast the Eagles. May the Force be with you.”
As it turned out, Caden Harbin was a force on both sides of the line as he led Halls to an 18-8 victory in a pivotal Region 2-5A matchup Friday night at wet and soggy Dink Adams Field.
The 6-2, 185-pound junior accounted for all three touchdowns as he gained 43 yards on 10 carries and caught three passes for 39 yards.
Defensively, Harbin had back-to-back tackles for loss, blocked a punt and had two sacks, with one forcing a fumble. His stat sheet totaled nine tackles and three assists.
“Caden means so much to our team,” said Halls head coach J.D. Overton. “He was voted a team captain and is just a junior. He’s been playing his guts out for his brothers on the field and for his community. We’re just happy he’s with us and he’s doing a great job.”
Gibbs cheerleaders also set up their run-through banner in the pre-game festivities, which announced the arrival of the “Big Blue Wreckin’ Crew.”
Dalton Rodgers, a 5-11, 240-pound junior, headed up the crew’s running attack, pounding out 91 yards on eight attempts, before his night was cut short by injury. A 56-yard run on his second carry led to the Eagles’ only touchdown.
Rodgers’ last carry came with about five minutes to go in the first half, and Gibbs head coach Brad Conley said after the game, “He hurt his shoulder I think.” His departure was a big loss for the Eagles.
Winning its third game in a row, Halls evened its overall record at 3-3 and moved into third place in the region with a 2-1 mark. Gibbs dropped to 1-2 and 3-4. The Eagles have lost three straight.
“Anytime you beat your rival like that on homecoming and with what we think is pretty much a playoff berth on the line, it’s exciting,” said Coach Overton.
Halls had seven false start penalties in the game and overcame three of them to score on its opening possession.
A 28-yard screen pass from quarterback Andrew Davis to J.T. Freels plus the first of five personal fouls by Gibbs gave the Red Devils a first down at the Eagles’ 27-yard line. Davis hit Freels again with a 12-yarder and tossed a 20-yard pass to a wide open Harbin for the TD.
Gibbs answered on its first series. Rodgers got to the Halls 7 on his long run. Zack Beeler scored on a quarterback sneak from the 1. The Eagles faked an extra-point kick and Logan Wolfenbarger ran in for two points to give Gibbs an 8-6 lead.
A 19-play, 66-yard drive put Halls back ahead. Harbin snagged a 16-yard pass on third-and-eight early in the march. Hutson Woods had an 11-yard run. A roughing the passer penalty gave the Red Devils first-and-goal at the 4.
Harbin, running out of the Wildcat formation, broke a tackle and tallied from two yards out, giving Halls a 12-8 advantage early in the second quarter.
After the teams swapped punts, Gibbs got something going and moved from its 6-yard line to the 50. Rodgers started the drive, breaking a tackle and gaining eight yards. Wolfenbarger hauled in a slant pass over the middle for 15. Desanta Smith used shifty moves to pick up 13.
On first down at the 50, Rodgers rushed for one yard and that was his last carry of the game. The drive fizzled out, too.
“The loss of No. 2 (Rodgers) made them have to open it up and not push it up the middle, so we just collapsed on them easier,” said Harbin. “They had to change their offense, which helped us a lot.”
The Red Devils turned up the heat on defense in the third quarter. After Gibbs reached the 50, Harbin got in the Eagles’ backfield and tackled Wolfenbarger and Smith for 5-yard losses. With Red Devils swarming all around, Jordan Billiter sacked Beeler for a 10-yard loss.
“We told the defensive line they were going to win a football game for us with their assignment football,” said Overton. “Hat’s off to the defensive line.”
Harbin capped the defensive frenzy by blocking Gibbs’ punt and Halls set up shop at the Eagles’ 15. Harbin again scored out of the Wildcat from a yard out to make it 18-8 with 2:23 left in the third quarter.
On Gibbs’ next possession, Harbin sacked Beeler for a 15-yard loss and knocked the ball loose in the process. Billiter recovered the prize.
Gibbs escaped a safety early in the fourth quarter. Beeler had a 28-yard run to the 34 but lost a fumble to Woods on the next play.
The Eagles got to the Halls 31 midway through the final quarter after Wyatt Humphries recovered a fumble by Harbin on a punt return, but Beeler was sacked by Harbin for an 8-yard loss on fourth-and-four.
Neither team seriously threatened the rest of the way.
“I thought we played really bad,” said Coach Conley. “Halls came out and beat us. They deserve to win. We didn’t respond to a challenge.
“Offensively, it’s our worst performance of the year. Defensively, I thought our kids hung in there, made some plays, gave us a chance to get back in the game. But we’ve got to figure out how to make some plays. We didn’t make them tonight.”
Gibbs has an open date this week and will host South-Doyle Oct. 16.
Halls will cross over Black Oak Ridge this week and take on Central.
“It’s a big, tough test for us,” said Overton. “Another rival, so we’ll have to play well.”
HOMECOMING QUEEN: Alex Yaniello, a senior, was named the 2015 Halls High School Homecoming Queen. She raised $5,721 and represents the Cheer Squad.
The 11 contestants in the Homecoming Court raised almost $24,000.