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By Johnny Falduto of Friday Night Final - only on The ROAR

5A powerhouse Hillcrest (5-0) continued its hot start to the season with a thrilling 37-35 victory over Powdersville (4-1) in a battle between two of the top-ranked teams in the upstate on Friday night.

The Rams’ offense wasted no time getting on the board in the first quarter, with a 10-play, 58-yard opening drive culminating in a Logan Coldren 3-yard touchdown run to give Hillcrest a 7-0 lead just under four minutes into the game. “It brought an immense amount of energy to the team,” said the senior running back, who finished with 104 yards, surpassing the 100-yard mark for the second week in a row. “It was a huge energy boost (to start the game), for sure.”

After a Stephen Dyar 35-yard field goal to extend Hillcrest’s lead to 10-0, an outstanding catch by senior Kyle Rice capped off an 8-play, 80-yard drive in just over two minutes for Powdersville, with junior Jack Hunsinger converting the 2-point attempt to cut the Rams’ lead down to 10-8. Coming right back, however, Hillcrest quarterback Bennett Judy threw the first of his four touchdown passes of the night, this one to junior Thomas Stanley, to go back up 17-8 midway through the second quarter.

The remainder of the first half was all Patriots, as Virginia Tech commit Thomas Williams capped off his 186-yard first half by scoring two of his three touchdowns on a 35-yard screen pass and a 42-yard run up the middle on back-to-back possessions to give Powdersville a 22-17 lead going into the break.

Hillcrest’s Bennett Judy said he was prepared for the adversity: “I knew Powdersville was very well coached and would be a great team, so we expected challenges during the game,” he said. “Our coaches kept reminding us all week that it was going to be a great environment and that they would be prepared to battle us on their home field, but we practiced and studied hard, so we were confident in our game plan and stuck with it throughout the game.”

Hillcrest’s defense began the second half with a Grant Holiday interception on the Patriots’ first play from scrimmage, setting up a Ny’lan Harris 3-yard touchdown catch on 4th down to put the Rams back in front 24-22. After another defensive stand, Judy would find junior Avery McFadden in stride on a 62-yard deep touchdown pass to extend the lead to 31-22.

McFadden, who finished the game with nine receptions for 142 yards, knew it was only a matter of time before the deep connection: “We were talking about running that play a few times, but we waited for the right moment and it was a great outcome,” he said, “before the ball was snapped, I knew Bennett could sling it, so I just had to make sure I outran the defender.”

Refusing to go away, Thomas Williams found the end zone for a third time but the Patriots were unable to convert the point after, making it 31-28 midway through the fourth. Judy answered by finding Gavin Flores on the ensuing possession for his fourth touchdown pass of the game, but they too were unable to convert the 2-point attempt, bringing the score to 37-28 with four minutes remaining.

With just over a minute left on the clock, Patriots quarterback Eli Hudgins kept it himself to bring the team to within two, but a failed onside kick allowed the Rams to run out the clock and secure the win by a score of 37-35.

“Powdersville had so many great players and coaches and I have nothing but the greatest respect for them,” said Bennett Judy, who finished the game 26-38 for 312 yards and 4 touchdowns to bring his total count to 17 on the season, one of the highest in the upstate. Perhaps even more impressive is that he’s done it all without throwing a single interception- but if you ask him, that’s not what is important: “I get asked about personal goals a lot, but all I care about on the field is helping my teammates win football games,” he said. “I don’t care about my individual accomplishments, I just want to help my team as much as I can. If they are successful, then I’m happy.”

The 5-0 start for the Rams is their best since 2015, and they look to keep it going at home next week against Wren (0-4), while Powdersville looks to get back in the win column in two weeks against Belton-Honea (4-0).

“This win means a lot to us in the moment, but we know we still have a long season and we can’t keep hanging on to this one,” said Logan Coldren, “We have to continue to win every week, go 1-0 every week, and everything will work out.”

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Tune in to our Tri-County Tech High School Football Game of the Week, Friday nights at 7pm.