New Hanover gets playoff rematch it wanted

New Hanover beat Southeast Raleigh Bulldogs in the 2nd round of playoffs at Legion Stadium, 41-34. (Photo by File photo by Jeff Janowski)

When the New Hanover High School football team left New Bern on Sept. 30 after losing to the Bears, coach Kevin Motsinger told his team they'd be back.

Sure enough, seven weeks later, the Wildcats return to New Bern for a third-round matchup in the Class 4A playoffs.

Friday's rematch with the Mideastern Conference champion has the Wildcats excited, especially given New Bern's rain-washed 28-21 regular-season win.

Motsinger said, despite the close score, that game was his team's worst of the season.

"We didn't play well at all," Motsinger said. "We got arrogant and we played that way. That's the worst performance we've had on a Friday night all year."

If the Wildcats hope to improve, they'll have to do it while limping.

Running back Laquan Chandler, already a replacement, suffered a leg injury last week and Motsinger is unsure how much he'll play.

Three Wildcats wide receivers played hurt last week against Southeast Raleigh, and linebacker Grayson Lancaster was also limited with injuries.

"This weekend I was breaking down film, and going through it thinking, ‘We can do this, we can't do that, we can't do that either,'" Motsinger said. "That's why they call me coach, I've got to put the kids in the right place to succeed."

One place the Wildcats' hopes will be more solid is in the secondary. Three times during the first game, New Bern quarterback Josh Taylor found wide-open wide receivers for touchdowns.

Safety Taleike Toney said the Wildcats know what they did wrong.

"First, we've got to get there and cover," Toney said. "We've got to make sure we get over the top. That's not what happened the first time."

But with all the injuries and miscues, the Wildcats have found plenty of bright spots.

Dariaun Tillghman began the season as a backup safety, but is now the Wildcats' kickoff return man, starting safety and backup running back.

Against Southeast Raleigh, Tillghman had a 90-yard kickoff return to set up a touchdown, rushed 11 times for 41 yards and a touchdown and batted away Southeast Raleigh's final pass play in the end zone.

"Taleike Toney and Dariaun Tillghman, I can't say enough about those guys," Motsinger said.

"The leadership they've had. Watching Dariaun mature just as a young man. ... Every week we've had to give him more responsibility."

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