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Hearne opens playoffs with win over Grapeland

Hearne opens playoffs with win over Grapeland

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TRINITY — With a modest grin, Hearne junior defensive lineman Steven Craft-Mitchell said he’s become accustomed to filling up his personal stat sheet this season.

Friday was simply another day in the office for Craft-Mitchell as his Eagles took down Grapeland 59-14 at Trinity’s Tiger Pit in the Class 2A Division I bi-district playoffs.

Craft-Mitchell led the Eagles (9-0) in tackles with six, including five tackles for loss and two sacks. He also forced a fumble and recovered a fumble.

The entire Eagle defensive line combined for 16 tackles and eight for loss against a Sandies squad that featured several offensive playmakers on the ground.

“We’re just able to do so much with those guys, and they’ve been really carrying us through the season,” Hearne head coach Ricky Sargent said. “We’re just very excited they’re on our team.”

Utilizing two different quarterbacks and three unique running backs through their first drive, Grapeland (6-5) caught Hearne on its heels with some new formations. The Sandies also welcomed back starting quarterback B.J. Lamb, who had missed the last four weeks with a high ankle sprain.

Grapeland junior running back Cadarrian Wiley scored on a 29-yard run to cap an eight-play, 76-yard opening drive. The try for two failed.

After the initial shock, the Eagles hit high gear, scoring touchdowns on their next three drives. Quarterback Micah Smith scored two of them on runs of 9 and 21 yards. Sandwiched between was a 2-yard TD run by senior Jeremy Seymore.

The Eagles entered halftime with a 20-6 lead while only needing to convert one third down. With Grapeland’s defensive backs playing well off the line of scrimmage, Smith relied on a read option to move the ball through the middle of the field on the ground. He finished the night with 109 rushing yards on nine carries, while completing 6 of 11 passes for 87 yards and two more scores.

After the break, Grapeland (6-5) tried crowding the line of scrimmage to defend Hearne’s rushing attack, which opened up the outside up for explosive plays. Smith hit Jabari Dunn with a 39-yard pass on a fade route that set up Seymore’s 10-yard TD run to open the second half. Smith later found senior Davon Catelleja behind the defense for a 23-yard touchdown pass. Then late in the third quarter, Dunn scored on a 5-yard TD catch from Smith.

Hearne’s defense added to the scoreboard in the third after one of Craft-Mitchell’s sacks resulted in a fumble. Senior Milton Redmon scooped up the loose ball and ran it into the end zone from 11 yards out.

Craft-Mitchell said he had been perfecting his rip move in practice and the extra work paid off Friday.

“We feel like we’re a pretty solid offensive line,” Grapeland head coach Terry Ward said. “We’re not world-beaters, but they made us look really bad. The first half, we had some plays and some positive things. Once the second half got here, those guys took over the game, and it made it very difficult to call an offense at that point.”

Hearne’s special teams also made it’s mark on the win. Kicker Omar Leon drilled a 30-yard field goal in the third quarter, and Catelleja scored on a 40-yard punt return.

Grapeland closed out the scoring with a 12-yard touchdown run by Wiley in the waning minutes of the blowout.

The Eagles outgained Grapeland 333 to 222 in offensive yards and forced four turnovers.

Hearne advances to the area round to face Beckville (8-3) at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Athens.

Most seasons, the excitement of moving along in the playoffs is all that comes with a win. This season, it’s just a little sweeter, Sargent said.

“It means a lot for us and for our community, especially during this pandemic,” he said. “To continue to win and get the support of this community, we’re excited.”

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