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Wildcats' big plays the difference in penalty-ridden game

New Hanover's Rodney Hansley and Craig Bullock celebrate after a fumble recovery for the Wildcats Friday night as they play Southeast Raleigh at Legion Stadium. (Photo by Photo By: Jeff Janowski/StarNews Media)

A few big plays and a blizzard of penalties were enough to give New Hanover a 28-14 win against Southeast Raleigh in the first round of the NCHSAA Class 4A football playoffs Friday.

The Wildcats did some offensive damage at Legion Stadium, but mostly benefitted from 18 Southeast Raleigh penalties.

New Hanover was whistled for nine penalties of its own as well and the constant interruptions prevented either team from establishing much rhythm.

"We were like an N'Sync cover band tonight," Motsinger joked. "We were Outta Sync."

New Hanover (10-1) scored nonetheless, with penalties on the Bulldogs repeatedly extending drives. In the second half, the Wildcats converted on fourth down by drawing Southeast Raleigh offsides. Two crucial personal fouls set up New Hanover's final touchdown as well.

New Hanover needed the boost, as the Wildcats' usually explosive offense sputtered. Quarterback Ward Coleman, pressured by the Southeast Raleigh defensive line, threw three interceptions and completed just 11 of 29 passes for 97 yards.

With running back Ramone Simpson out with an injured knee, the Wildcats turned again to Montrell Baldwin to carry the offensive load, and Baldwin responded with three touchdown runs and 109 total yards.

Motsinger said that while several players were sick or banged up, the Wildcats didn't have the intensity he wanted.

"We didn't come to play tonight," Motsinger said. "Right now, a teenage boy doesn't understand that you don't get too many opportunities here on your home field."

Even without their best effort, the Wildcats led throughout the game. New Hanover led 14-7 at halftime and, when Southeast Raleigh closed within 21-14 late in the third quarter, the Wildcats quickly responded with the game's final touchdown.

Even when no flags were thrown on Southeast Raleigh, the Bulldogs struggled to generate offense. New Hanover held them to just 64 first-half yards and 142 for the game.

"Defensively, it helps when you get five starters back," Motsinger said. "I look way smarter with Kashon McCall on the field than I do with him in crutches. ... We can rotate guys in a lot more, and I think we can wear people down."

And despite his disappointment with his team's performance, Motsinger quickly found a silver lining heading into next week's second-round matchup with Clayton.

"I am absolutely miserable and an unhappy camper," Motsinger said. "But this time of year, it's about Ws."