Bucks lose season opener to Gray’s Creek

Ethan Wallace finds a big hole in the middle of the Gray’s Creek defense. He scored 4 touchdowns and had 223 all-purpose yards in the Bucks 34-35 home opening loss. (Hal Nunn/North State Journal)

In a game that started slow and ended just after 11 p.m., the Hoke County Bucks and the Gray’s Creek Bears managed to turn things around for the crowd during the final minutes of play. Unfortunately for the Bucks, the Bears ultimately walked away with a one-point lead for the win. The final score was 35-34. 

Gray’s Creek took up a majority of the first quarter only to be picked off inside the 10-yard line by the Bucks’ Te’john Darden. Hoke County couldn’t move the ball, and with a short field, the Bears capitalized by striking first with a touchdown and extra point. The Bucks were quick to answer, returning with a better drive and ending with an Ethan Wallace 13-yard touchdown run. However, the extra point was missed, leaving Hoke trailing by one point as they headed into the second quarter. 

The Bucks held the Bears on their next possession before Ethan Wallace hit pay dirt again and managed a 64-yard touchdown run of his own, putting the Bucks up 12-7 with less than five minutes left in the half. Gray’s Creek returned the favor by putting up another long drive touchdown and making the two-point conversion. The Bears lead 15-12 at the half.

In the third quarter, Gray’s Creek attempted to pull away, going up 22-12 with another unanswered touchdown. With just seven minutes left in the quarter, the Bucks put a huge drive together, with Ethan Wallace scoring his third touchdown of the game. His touchdown brought the score to 22-18 and put the Bucks within four points of the lead.

Hoke’s defense stifled the Bears on the next possession, with Ethan Wallace responding with his fourth touchdown of the game. The Bucks immediately capitalized on their success by going for two. They seized the game with a 26-22 lead and roughly 7 minutes left to play. Unfortunately, Grays Creek returned the favor, scoring shortly after the Bucks, making the score 29-26.

On the ensuing kickoff, Warren Avery received the kick and returned it for a 60-yard touchdown run, giving the Bucks a 34-29 lead. At this point in the game, when it seemed both defenses had given up, the Bears marched down again and scored to take the lead. The Bucks failed to drive back in the final three minutes of the game, leaving Gray’s Creek with the win. 

“We sort of came out real slow on defense, and the execution was just not there,” said Coach George Small after the game. “We have been having to rebuild the defense somewhat, and you know defense is what I do, but normally we have to do that with the offense. This year we are more experienced on offense, and on defense, we have some returning guys, but they did not have much playing time last year.”

Coach Small acknowledged both teams’ defensive struggles in the second half, saying, “we still have guys whiffing and tip-toeing around the play, and we just cannot play like that.” 

In the end, the most notable positives for the Bucks were the running and catching duo performances by Ethan Wallace and Warren Avery. Wallace ended the game with 192 yards rushing, 31 yards receiving, and four touchdowns. Avery had 95 all-purpose yards and a 60-yard return for a touchdown. Quarterback Brandon Saunders made nine successful throws amounting to 83 yards and only allowed one interception. Defensively, Darrien Frazier led the way with eight tackles and one sack.

The Bucks will play again at home this coming Friday night against Lumberton. The game is set for 7:30 p.m. at Raz Autry Stadium in Raeford.