Rams advance to eastern finals with 24-7 victory

VANCEBORO – The Havelock Rams beat their Craven County rivals in the game that mattered the most.

Now, they are headed to the 3A Eastern Finals for the seventh time in the past eight seasons.

Havelock avenged its regular-season loss to West Craven with a 24-7 victory in the third round of the playoffs Friday evening at Clay Jordan Stadium in Vanceboro.

“We had a letdown when we played West Craven earlier in the year, but we fixed those mistakes,” said Havelock coach Jim Bob Bryant. “The regular season doesn’t matter, it’s all about the playoffs and we are hosting the Eastern Finals at Havelock.”

The third-seeded Rams (13-1) will play host to Rocky Mount next Friday with a trip to the state championship in Winston-Salem on the line.

Havelock has played for a state title in four of the previous five seasons with three championships.

“We have one more game to play before we go to a state championship,” Bryant said. “We were talking about this before the year, we want to host the Eastern Finals at Havelock, where it belongs, and that’s where we are playing next week.”

The Rams have won 44 road games in a row and nine consecutive at West Craven.

West Craven (12-1), which claimed its first Coastal 3A Conference title since 2008, bested Havelock 28-21 in a game that was started on Oct. 6 and finished on Oct. 24 after the flooding caused by Hurricane Matthew.

The Rams responded by handing the Eagles their only loss, and knocked them out of the postseason.

“I feel like we made a huge statement, that we are the best team in Craven County,” said Havelock senior wide receiver Quinzel Lockhart. “After they beat us, we told them we were going to meet them again. Our coach never let us forget about the loss we had against them earlier.”

Havelock’s defense intercepted West Craven quarterback Jarred Arthur five times and junior Solomon Beligotti scored three rushing touchdowns.

“We had prepared for it all week. We were serious about stopping the passing game. We made sure we know what everyone was supposed to do,” Lockhart said. “We all communicated and we all did our job. When everyone does their job, it gets done right.”

Havelock slowed a West Craven offense that was averaging 45 points per game to just seven points, while intercepting two passes inside the red zone with the Eagles moving the football.

Anthony Harris nabbed two interceptions in the first half. Montrece Gatling, Beligotti and Dominick Madden also picked off passes.

“These guys have done a great job all year, they fought through adversity all year. These guys refused to be denied,” Bryant said. “There was something that was said that we couldn’t play pass defense by an opposing coach. I guess we proved them wrong tonight. Our defense has played lights out all year.”

West Craven’s JonQuez Green plunged in the end zone for a 3-yard run, cutting the Eagles’ deficit to 10-7 with 1:43 remaining in the third quarter.

Beligotti, who had a 3-yard rushing touchdown in the first quarter, extended Havelock’s lead to 17-7 with a 4-yard score early in the fourth quarter. His 14-yard touchdown run, his fifth in the past two playoff games, sealed the victory with 2:17 remaining.

“Solomon Beligotti played lights out football tonight. He was great out there tonight,” said Havelock quarterback Corey Cooper.

Havelock took a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter on Christian Hoomana’s 20-yard field goal.

Cooper, Havelock’s senior quarterback, passed for 202 yards. Welton Spottsville caught four passes for 97 yards.

“Corey Cooper has matured a lot as a senior quarterback. He’s improved as much as any quarterback I’ve ever hard, from the beginning of the year until now,” Bryant said. “The first six games, he had eight interceptions. The last eight, he’s had one. He’s taken care of the football and he’s led this offense.”

Boxscore

Havelock 24, West Craven 7

Havelock 7 3 0 14 – 24

West Craven 0 0 7 0 – 7

First quarter

H – Solomon Beligotti 3 run (Christian Hoomana kick), :53

Second quarter

H – Hoomana 20 field goal, 9:15

Third quarter

WC – JonQuez Green 3 run (Sam Lopez kick), 1:42

Fourth quarter

H – Beligotti 4 run (Hoomana kick), 11:33

H – Beligotti 14 run (Hoomana kick), 2:17

Team stats

H WC

First downs 17 15

Rush-yards 43-94 26-105

Passing yards 202 178

Comp.-Att.-Int. 11-20-0 11-31-5

Total yards 296 283

Punt-Ave. 7-35.3 3-34.7

Fumbles-lost 3-0 0-0

Penalties-yards 7-75 11-120

Individual stats

Passing: Havelock: Corey Cooper 11-20-0 202; West Craven: Jarred Arthur 10-28-5 168, Darious Abrams 1-2-0 10, Will Wetherington 0-1-0 0.

Rushing: Havelock: Solomon Beligotti 13-64 3 TD, Corey Cooper 21-29, Cameron Hutchinson 6-14, Montrece Gatling 2-1, Welton Spottsville 1 (-14); West Craven: Darious Abrams 9-60, JonQuez Green 8-38 TD, Jarred Arthur 2-5, Kavon Carmen 1-2, Jaquel Whitehead 5-1, Perry Bannister 1 (-1).

Receiving: Havelock: Welton Spottsville 4-97, Quinzel Lockhart 2-43, Kendall Frazier 1-27, Khalil Barrett 2-21, Christian Capps 1-16, Cameron Hutchinson 1 (-2); West Craven: Jaylen Franks 4-99, Peejay Thompson 3-52, Kavon Carmen 1-14, Jaquel Whitehead 1-7, Eric Best 1-4, JonQuez Green 1-2.