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Comets fall to 0-3 after 17-9 loss

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Lemal Adams catches the ball for a second quarter touchdown Friday against the Person County High School Rockets. The Comets were seeking their first win of the season. (David Conner II photo)

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SoVaNow.com / September 11, 2009
Halifax County looked like a completely different football team in the first half against border rival Person County, but the Comet varsity could not sustain that effort in the second half.

The Rockets picked up two unanswered touchdowns and rallied for a 17-9 win over the Comets Friday night.

Former Rocket standout Stan Hodgin still has not beaten PC as the Comet head coach. HCHS dropped to 0-3 on the season despite a courageous, extremely competitive effort here.

Person County improved to 2-2 overall and had a stout defensive effort in the second half, after HCHS took a 9-3 lead into the halftime break.

But Person was a different club after a halftime challenge from Rockets coach Don Donevan, as the visitors took command in the third period and held on for the win.

Hodgin said, “The final score does not in any way play into how proud I am of these guys. It’s not a reflection at all of how they hard they played.

“We had some execution breakdowns, obviously, but from an effort and a character standpoint, I don’t think we could ask for anything more,” said Hodgin.

“They’re a very good football team. I felt like we matched up pretty well with them. I fully expected to win going into the game.”

For more than a half, it looked like Halifax was in position to snap back from a disappointing start to the season.

HCHS, which deferred on the opening coin toss, started with a touchback from place-kicker Jordan Keck, but the Rockets got some early traction offensively. However, Person stalled after a fourth and six at the Comet 46.

But the Rockets gambled and tried a fake punt, and Carl Allen rambled 16 yards to the Comet 30, giving the offense new life

Nevertheless, the Comet defense was able to keep Person out of the end zone. The Rockets settled for a 32-yard field goal from specialist Corey Zandt with 3:54 left in the first quarter.

Comet returner Markee Brooks exploded downfield, breaking clear for a 95-yard kickoff return for an apparent touchdown on the ensuing Rocket kick.

But the electrifying return was nullified by a Comet clipping penalty. Still, HCHS started on the Rocket 20 with excellent field position.

But the turnover bug struck. Comet quarterback Patches Trent fumbled after a scramble, giving Person the ball at the 2:29 mark of the first period, eliminating a Comet scoring opportunity. PC took over on its 28.

Person, leading 3-0, started the second quarter with a shanked punt, following another stalled drive. HC took over with good field position at the Person 41, but the Comets could not capitalize.

But HCHS got it together quickly on its second possession of the second quarter. Starting on its 38, Thomas Logan rushed for three yards to the 41.

On second down, the Comet offense erupted. Trent found Lemal Adams downfield, and the Comet senior wideout completed an impressive 59-yard bomb for a 6-3 HCHS lead with 8:41 left before the half.

Adams said he hit a stop and go on the play, and got the Rocket defender to bite on the play. “I went on and caught it and went on and scored,” said Adams.

“Athletes make plays. On the touchdown, Lemal just made a very athletic move and Dale gave him a pass that he could catch in stride and outran him to the end zone,” said Hodgin.

The Comets botched the PAT, however.

The Comet defense continued to attack the Rockets aggressively, with Zane Long leading the way. The fire-breathing linebacker had an excellent game, constantly attacking the Rocket rush game.

The defense also created opportunities for HCHS.

HCHS also recovered the ball after a bad snap by the Rockets just before halftime, setting up a 22-yard Keck field goal with 36.7 seconds remaining in the first half.

HCHS appeared to have a handle on the slow-moving, penalty-ridden Rockets at the half, but it all unraveled in the third period.

The Rockets seized decisive momentum, collecting 14 unanswered points.

The trouble for HCHS started with a partially blocked punt on the Comets’ first series after halftime.

The special teams’ miscue gave the Rockets a first down at the HCHS 38, eventually setting up a a three-yard scoring run from Allen with 7:54 left. Person’s Zandt added the PAT, and the Rockets had a lead they never relinquished, 10-9.

Hodgin noted the protection broke down on the punt, slightly. “We did about 95 percent of what we were supposed to. They got a hand on it, and so we got a much shorter punt than we normally get. That gave them a short field, and they punched that one in for the first (touchdown),” said Hodgin.

HCHS had some success on its ensuing drive, including two superb catches from L. Adams and Kendall Adams. But a huge loss after a bad snap also wiped out the momentum, and the Comets stalled out.

HCHS appeared to have K. Adams open on a potential touchdown during this drive, but Trent overthrew his target.

The Comet high-octane spread offense has not clicked with any real consistency this season.

“We are a step away, a route away, a good ball away from being pretty good right now. We’re still working on our chemistry. We’re trying to get back to playing as a unit, and it’s going to come,” said Comet receivers coach Jay Cole.

Person, meanwhile, exploited the Comet defense with a well-executed drive from its 15, Finally, PC quarterback Seth Oakley plunged over from the one-yard line for a 16-9 Rocket lead with 1:31 left in the third. Zandt added the kick, and the Rockets had a 17-9 margin after the clock-eating drive that held up the rest of the way.

HCHS could not move effectively on its next possession, with Trent throwing into double coverage on the final play of the drive.

After a strong Dru Henderson punt, PC started on its 10. The Rockets put together a quality drive, but eventually tried a 41-yard field goal by Zandt. The kick soared wide, and the Comets still had a shot at the win with 5:01 left in the game.

Person got hit with two back to back majors – roughing the passer and pass interference – but Trent also absorbed too much pressure from the Person defense. The drive ended after Trent was sacked with 3:37 remaining on a third down, and the senior quarterback was off target after heavy pressure on fourth down.

HCHS got a final chance with 1:58 remaining when the Comet defense snuffed out the next Rocket drive. Trent had his moments, including a dramatic leaping catch by Davon Greene at midfield that briefly kept the Comet hopes alive.

Trent was briefly knocked out of the game, and backup Travis Lipscomb threw an incomplete pass for his only action at quarterback.

Finally, Trent re-entered and was sacked, with 15.2 ticks.

Oakley took a knee on the Rockets’ final possession, and Person County had escaped again.

“We played our hearts (out); went real hard, every play,” said L. Adams.

Still, the Comets should take some positives from the loss. The offensive line protection was better; the defense had some quality stretches closing out the Rockets, and HCHS clearly had a shot late to at least force overtime.

“We were playing hard in the first half, playing hard in the second half. Just some unfortunate things happened. I think, mainly, we ran out of time, to be honest,” said Zane Long. “I think we could have won that game very easily.

“We should have won this game,” said Long. “We had a very nice practice this week. We practiced hard all week, and we’re going to bounce back and practice harder next week and we’re going to win that game.”

HCHS left some possible points on the table.

“We get the kickoff return for a touchdown. We get the clipping call that brings it back. Then, we got it down there deep, we fumble and don’t get any points out of that, that was disappointing.

“We had the home run later that we just barely overthrew Kendall Adams on, and so we got no points out of that drive.

“We certainly had some missed opportunities and we faltered a little bit from an execution standpoint, but those things we can get better at. I have no doubt, starting Monday, we will,” said Hodgin.

The Comets had no interceptions, and lost one fumble. HCHS also recovered a fumble, battling evenly in the turnover game.

Hodgin is still thinking positive despite this winless start.

“The lessons learned from tonight’s ballgame, I think, are going to carry to the next seven ballgames with this group. I think the future’s awfully bright for this group. I would not be at all surprised to see a streak of really positive things happen for this team,” said Hodgin.

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