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Wildcats win big to set up New Bern rematch

New Hanover's Montrell Baldwin stiff arms a Clayton comet as he takes off down field Friday night at Legion Stadium. (Photo by Photo By: Jeff Janowski/StarNews Media)

New Hanover and Clayton combined for 897 yards total offense as the Wildcats grinded out a 40-28 victory Friday night at Legion Stadium in the second round of the of the Class 4A football playoffs.

It took all 473 yards of offense, plus a special teams' touchdown, for the Wildcats to advance to the quarterfinal round and a showdown at Mideastern Conference foe New Bern next week.

New Hanover offensive coordinator Darryl Raynor said he expected a low-scoring game instead of a shootout and praised the Comets (9-4) for being resilient and good.

He also said the Wildcats (11-1) took what the defense gave them. If the Comets stacked the line of scrimmage to stop running back Montrell Baldwin, the Wildcats went to the air – and sophomore quarterback Ward Coleman threw for 246 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Baldwin, meanwhile, rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns.

Wide receiver Trevon Brown secured the victory with a 22-yard touchdown catch in the end zone with 5 minutes left. He also returned a punt 62 yards for another TD.

But the Wildcats struggled to defend Clayton's Wing T, and the Comets torched New Hanover's defense for 424 yards total offense, including 381 on the ground.

Fullback Jace Brown was particularly difficult to contain, running for 201 yards.

From the outset, the Comets attempted to play ball-control offense and keep the Wildcats' explosive offense on the sidelines.

Four plays into the game, Clayton took a 7-0 lead Jace Brown's 10-yard run. And after an uneventful opening series, New Hanover's offense clicked.

On their next two possessions, the Wildcats scored a pair of touchdowns. Baldwin's 14-yard scoring run was set up by Jacen Murphy's 71-yard catch and run.

Coleman's 64-yard TD pass to Ramone Simpson gave the Wildcats to lead before Simpson rumbled 11 yards for another TD midway through the second period for a 20-7 cushion.

The Wildcats' defense then made one of the few statements of the night with a goal line stand, stuffing the Comets four times inside the 6 with 1:21 left in the opening half.

Coleman threw for 205 yards in the first half and hit four different receivers.

When he was not completing passes, Baldwin shredded Clayton's defense for 85 yards on eight carries through two quarters.

The Wildcats padded the lead to 27-7 on Brown's 62-yard punt return early in the third quarter.

But the Comets staged a comeback, cutting the lead to 33-28 in the fourth quarter before Brown's spectacular fourth-quarter catch in the zone.

It was the final game for retiring Comets coach Gary Fowler after 28 years in charge.