If there is one thing the Hixson Wildcats have proven this year, it's that no lead is safe. Unfortunately for the Central Purple Pounders, the same can be said about them.
Host Hixson scored the game's final 20 points in a 27-21 District 6-AA win Friday night to secure the Wildcats a seven-win season for only the second time in 26 years and the first since 1998.
"I told the team that next week we were going to start the third quarter first," said Hixson coach Jason Fitzgerald. "Fortunately, we've been there before. If there is one thing you can say about this team, it will fight to the end."
The Wildcats, who have rallied three times for second-half wins this season, were thoroughly dominated in the first half by an inspired Central team. But as has been the story for the Pounders all year, they just couldn't close the door.
It was Central's fourth loss this year in games decided by seven or fewer points and the third loss in games in which it led at halftime.
The Pounders converted nine of 11 third-down plays into firsts and converted both fourth-down tries in the first half as they rushed for 102 yards and passed for 102. The Central defense held Hixson to minus-4 yards rushing and just 41 total first-half yards.
Hixson had taken the early lead on Allonte Novene's 20 pass from Gil Brown, but that was pretty much the Wildcats' highlight. Central scored on Jaylan Hobbs' 4-yard run and Dominique Dawson's 3-yard keeper.
And it could have been worse. Central coughed up a fumble inside the Hixson 10, but the defense got the ball back for one last-gasp possession before the break. Dawson made the most of it, scrambling from sideline to sideline before heaving a 38-yard pass that hit TaQuan Johnson and bounced in the air before Hobbs saved it and Johnson caught it on his back in the end zone as the first half ended.
And while Central coach John Allen urged the Pounders to finish the job as they left the field, Hixson apparently had them right where they wanted them.
The Wildcats (7-3, 6-1) scored on two fourth-down plays, the first one after an interception -- the first of three Central turnovers in the second half. Isaiah Robinson hauled in a 22-yard pass from Brown, and the quarterback broke free on a 30-yard keeper on fourth down to pull Hixson to within 21-19.
Hixson took the lead for good on a 31-yard pitch and catch from Brown to Novene with 8:15 left, and when Central had a 50-yard pass called back for an ineligible receiver downfield, the deal was pretty much sealed. The Pounders had a punt bounce off a blocking back, and when Dawson picked it up he found a receiver open on the 50-yard pass in a bizarre sequence.
The Pounders couldn't get a play off before the refs huddled and called the penalty that had Coach Allen rushing all the way out to midfield to dispute it. The call stood and Hixson forced a late turnover to set up victory formation.
Central ended the year 2-8 (1-6), while Hixson moves into the playoffs next week.
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Asked at season's beginning what Hixson's team goals were, senior receiver Allante Novene kept it simple: a winning season.
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For games of Sept. 15 (Coaches are invited to make nominations. Email Ward Gossett at email@example.com by 2 p.m. each ...
(Coaches are invited to make nominations. Email firstname.lastname@example.org by 2 p.m. each Sunday.)