By Bill Howard
In its season-opening game at home Friday night against Webb School of Knoxville, Carter High School was down 14-0 at halftime. Twice quarterback Chandler Wilson threw touchdown passes, only to have them both called back because of penalties.
The Hornets had numerous other infractions in the half.
“First night, sloppy night,” said Carter coach Justin Pressley. “We gotta clean a lot of things up; we’re a way better football team than we were tonight.”
That better team showed itself in the second half. Behind Wilson’s clutch plays and a stout, opportunistic defense, the Hornets reeled off 26 straight points en route to a 26-21 win.
“Chandler Wilson, I can’t say enough about him,” said Pressley. “He answered the call whenever he needed to. On the ground and in the air he’s a threat.”
For the game, Wilson was 27 of 40 for 288 yards and a score. He also ran for a 30-yard touchdown with 10:23 to go in the game to give the Hornets a 20-14 lead.
Webb’s 14-0 halftime lead came first on an 11-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Charley Robinson to running back Jalen Hill on the game’s opening drive. The drive took barely a minute, and it appeared the Spartans’ new-look passing game would make it a long night for Carter.
With 3:35 left in the half, Robinson hit wide receiver Brandon Winton on a slant, and he took it 42 yards for the 14-0 halftime advantage. For the game, Robinson was 13 of 31 for 205 yards and three scores.
But until a late-game 59-yard scoring pass when Webb was down 26-14, Robinson was just four of 11 for 18 yards in the second half. On numerous occasions, he was under pressure and was sacked more than once.
“We did a good job, we made some big plays,” said Spartans’ coach David Meske of his passing game. “We weren’t as consistent as we need to be.”
Rusty Bradley, Webb’s new offensive coordinator known for pass-happy offenses, is confident his aerial game will take shape.
“We still got a ways to go,” he said. “Had some good things happen but definitely have some ways to go. Every place I’ve been when I’ve been new it’s taken three or four games for things to really click. I’m pleased with where we are; we just gotta keep getting better.”
On the opening drive of the second half, Carter cut the lead to 14-7 when, with 10:12 left in the third, Wilson hit Kaleb Harper for a 23-yard touchdown. After forcing a Webb punt late in the quarter, the Hornets took over on their own 43 with 2:12 left in the quarter.
Nine plays later, Presean Brown plowed in from the one to make it 14-13. Pressley decided to go for two, but the run was stuffed. Webb led 14-13.
The play of the game was coming up.
On the ensuing kickoff, Carter tried an onside kick. It was recovered by the Hornets’ Nick Corum, and Carter was in business on Webb’s 49. On the fourth play Wilson scored on a 30-yard keeper and the Hornets had a 20-14 lead.
“Week one, you wanna see if your kids can respond,” said Pressley. “That shows a lot about our kids and the character they have. Hang in there, keep attacking, don’t worry about the things we can’t control.”
When Carter’s Spencer Russell scored from the one with but 1:23 left in the game, the 26-14 Hornet lead seemed to put the game away.
But Webb wouldn’t quit. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Robinson hit Markeis Barrett for a 59-yard score. Just like that, it was 26-21.
“We had called that screen a couple of times earlier for Markeis but there was a missed block outside,” said Bradley. “We definitely gotta get the ball in his hands as much as possible.”
Fittingly, the game’s drama still wasn’t over. Webb recovered the onside kick… about half a yard too soon. The penalty gave the ball to Carter which ran out the clock.
“We played terrible in the third quarter and most of the fourth,” said Meske. ”They got physical and we couldn’t match it.”
“We hung in there and responded to bad situations,” said Pressley. “We just gotta adjust and adapt and we did that in the second half. And we were able to finish on our drives. These guys have worked so hard for this and they deserve it.”