MINT HILL Before the start of the 2013 high school football season, West Mecklenburg running back Shaun Wilson had the game against Independence circled on his calendar.
Every game is important, but this one was really important, Wilson said. We had to prepare a lot for this one, because people had been doubting us.
No more doubts about West Mecklenburg now, as Wilson fought off cramps in the second half and rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns Thursday as the Hawks upset the No. 4 Patriots 40-33.
Wilson scored the game-winner from 2 yards out with 2 minutes, 1 second remaining for West Mecklenburg, ranked No. 13 in the Observers Sweet 16. Defensive back Donnell Gardner then came up with an interception with 5.6 seconds left to give the Hawks their first 4-0 start since 2004.
We never questioned ourselves, West Mecklenburg coach Jeff Caldwell said. Other people were doubting us, but we never doubted ourselves. We just didnt know how good we were, or how much we needed to get better.
The doubts were understandable, considering the Hawks opened the season with wins against three opponents with a combined 0-9 record, outscoring them 198-6. West Mecklenburg rolled up 411 total yards against Independence (3-1).
Its definitely a wake-up call, Patriots coach Joe Evans said. We knew coming in that their running game was phenominal. They made plays, while we didn't make enough plays to win this ball game.
Van Smith added 89 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and Jalan McClendon threw for 117 yards and ran for a score for the Hawks, who twice trailed by 13 points in the first half before fighting back to a 27-20 halftime deficit.
Still, Independence was more than in the game in the first half, with Deion Washington having two kick returns a 96-yard kickoff and a 65-yard punt for touchdowns. Kelvin Hopkins hit Workpeh Kofa on a 45-yard TD pass, and Isaiah Robinson had a 4-yard TD run.
But the Patriots managed one second-half score, a 1-yard Hopkins keeper with 7:23 left that tied the game at 33.
Hopkins finished with 180 yards passing for Independence, which had 60 rushing yards 42 by Robinson and 10 first downs.
Kiser: 704-895-3662; Twitter: @Bkiser_CLTObs.
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