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September 13, 2013CHARLOTTE - It was a matchup of two high scoring, undefeated teams as West Mecklenburg traveled across the county to take on Independence. The sun was still shining as the teams took the field in this late summer matchup. The temperature was high and so was the energy on the field as the two offenses combined for 73 points.
Independence, led by senior running back Isaiah Robinson and senior wide receiver Workpeh Kopa, had averaged 37 points a game on offense before this Week 4 matchup. West Mecklenburg and its trio of stars in Jalen McClendon, Shaun Wilson, and Van Smith, had outscored teams 198-6 through three games this season. Neither team's offense disappointed. By the time the game ended, players and fans alike were exhausted, and the West Mecklenburg Hawks celebrated a 40-33 win over the Independence Patriots.
The aptly named Patriots were celebrating red, white, and blue night in response to the game being played on September 12th. Fans on both sides waved American flags throughout the evening after an emotional national anthem with first responders in attendance.
Independence won the toss and elected to receive. The Patriots went for a fake punt, but were unsuccessful and West Mecklenburg took over in Patriot territory. The Hawks took advantage of the field position and Shaun Wilson got West Mecklenburg on the board with a ten yard touchdown run. "Everybody doubted us...we wanted to show everyone we're a team to contend with," Wilson commented after the game. The senior running back, who is being recruited by Appalachian State, Kansas State, and NC State, finished with over 200 yards rushing. "I wasn't really worried about stats, I just wanted to win the game. It's a big, big game, "Wilson said.
Independence, upset over giving up just their second touchdown of the season, immediately responded. Deion Washington took the West Mecklenburg kickoff at his own 3 and scooted up the Patriot sideline for a 97 yard touchdown. The Patriots went for two, but the pass fell incomplete, leaving the Patriots trailing West Mecklenburg 7-6 early in the first quarter.
West Mecklenburg, wanting to regain the momentum just lost on the big kickoff return, was unable to do so and fumbled the ball away to Independence. The Patriots took immediate advantage of the turnover with junior quarterback Kelvin Hopkins throwing a 45 yard bomb to Charlotte recruit Workpeh Kofa for the touchdown. With the PAT, Independence led West Meck 13-7.
West Mecklenburg was bit by the turnover bug again on their next drive as Independence defensive back Elijah Small intercepted Jalen McClendon after a pass bounced off his receiver's hands. It looked like Independence was going to take it to the house again when a big pass to Jamar Jenkins put the Patriots in the red zone. But, after an awkward series when the two teams traded penalties, Independence ended up with 4th and goal from the 16 and was unable to convert. "They made the plays to win the game, and we didn't," Independence coach Joe Evans mentioned after the game.
The two teams traded possessions for the first half of the second quarter, with neither team able to gain any momentum. That changed when a bad snap went over the head of the West Mecklenburg quarterback on 3rd down, forcing the Hawks to punt from deep in their own territory. Independence's Deion Washington returned the punt sixty-four yards for the touchdown to give the Patriots a 20-7 lead in the second quarter.
Late in the second quarter, West Mecklenburg's defense was able to stifle the Patriots' offense and needed the Hawk offense to step up and back on the board. Shaun Wilson, slipping off multiple tacklers, made a huge run down to the 1 yard line. Junior Van Smith, playing both ways like so many Hawks, punched it in from a yard out to bring the Hawks within six, 20-14 at the 5:51 mark of the 2nd quarter.
The Patriots responded in kind with a big pass to Jamar Jenkins that got the Patriots down inside the red zone and down to the 13 yard line. Independence thought they got on the board after a receiver found himself open in the end zone, but the pass was incomplete. Kelvin Hopkins scored on a keeper on the next play to make it 27-14 in favor of the home team Patriots..
For the second time of the night, West Mecklenburg found themselves facing a thirteen point deficit. But Coach Jeff Caldwell didn't see any need to panic and leaned on his running game to get the Hawks back into the game. When Van Smith dove over the defense for a three yard score, his second of the night, the Hawks found themselves only down by seven and with the momentum heading into halftime. "We really didn't know (if we would have success running) tonight. They were big, and their linebackers flow well. They have athletes all over the field...our kids did a good job." Caldwell said after the game.
After the second half kickoff went out of bounds, West Mecklenburg took over on their own 35 yard line and running back Shaun Wilson took over the game for the Hawks. After a big 57 yard run got the Hawks into the red zone, Wilson finished off the drive with a two yard run, tying the score at 27. Wilson recorded each of the 65 yards on the drive.
The Patriots, seeing their two score lead evaporate, tried anything they could to regain momentum, even forcing the ball into coverage on multiple occasions West Meck was able to get an interception on Independence during the middle of the third quarter, but was backed up to its own one yard line. The Hawks went 99 yards, converting two fourth downs on the way, including a fourth and goal when Jalen McClendon scored on a one yard keeper for a 33-27 lead.
Patriot coaches gathered their offensive players and set about trying to get some more points on the board. Facing a fourth down near midfield, the Patriots turned to Isaiah Robinson once again and Robinson did not let them down, running for twenty yards, pushing two defenders out the way. A penalty moved the ball down to the 20, where the Patriots went back to Robinson who ran down to the 1. Quarterback Kelvin Hopkins kept the ball on a sneak play to score, tying the game at 33. A bad snap on the PAT kept the score tied at 33 and fans sensed that this game was going to come down to which defense could make the final stop.
West Mecklenburg ensured it would not be their offense that was shut down as Shaun Wilson found the end zone on a 2 yard touchdown run, his third of the night. With two minutes left in the game, West Mecklenburg led Independence 40-33. A big interception by Donnell Gardner sealed the deal for the Hawks, who have started off the season 4-0 for the first time in almost a decade.
"It was a tremendous game for us, the program, and the entire West Meck community," Hawks coach Jeff Caldwell said after the game. "This is a turning point in our program, and we have to build on it. We are never 'there' but this was a good win," Caldwell replied when asked about the magnitude of a win like this. Caldwell then spoke of fan of the West Mecklenburg program, "we don't even have a stadium, but that's not our worry. We have to work at the basics and get better. High school football is about having a good time. We invite all West Meck graduates to come out to the games and feel good about Friday night."
Even with the loss, Patriots' coach Joe Evans was proud of his team's play. "We did a decent job, but not a good enough job to beat a good West Meck team," Evans said. "We've got to be able to run the football...we got away from it too much."
The Patriots travel to Hough next week in another Mecklenburg clash, while West Mecklenburg has a bye week before opening conference play against Ardrey Kell.
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