Though they were down just 19-14 heading into the fourth quarter against Hoke, Scotland was reeling after three quarters of little to no offensive production. The Scots needed a score in the worst way, and that’s when wide receiver Tra’Shawn Gregory’s number was called.
“The coaches told me to keep my head up because a ball was about to come my way,” Gregory said. “My team really needed me, and when I saw the ball in the air I kept my focus on it instead of who was covering me. I knew it was my moment and I had to catch that pass.”
Colliding in the air with Hoke defensive back Dertrez Newsome, Gregory would overpower the smaller cornerback and rip the ball away for the reception, and from there it was open field for the 6’3” receiver. Gregory would convert the pass into a 58-yard TD reception (his seventh of the year) that paved the way for Scotland’s 34-19 comeback win over the Hoke County Bucks.
It was only the second time all season that the Scots had to battle back from a deficit.
“In the NCAA, you always see the best teams have a game that really tests them and makes them see how tough they are,” said Scotland coach Richard Bailey after the game. “Hoke was that game for us, and while our offense did just enough to win in the end, it was our defense that really won us the game. They did a great job tonight.”
The Fighting Scots have become a team defined by fast starts over the past few weeks, often putting games out of reach before half time.
But as the final seconds ticked off an eventful first quarter, Scotland found themselves down two scores against a Hoke team that dominated all phases of the game.
Scotland combined for just eight total yards in the first quarter, by far their lowest total of the season thus far. After an opening series that went just four of those yards, things continued to get worse for Scotland when, on the Scots’ second drive, sophomore quarterback Jaylend Ratliffe fumbled a snap which was recovered by the Bucks’ defense.
Hoke started the ensuing drive on Scotland’s 32-yard line, and that’s when the top running back in the southeastern conference began to make his presence felt.
Hoke’s Newsome would take the second snap of the series 23 yards for the first score of the game. Turnovers would continue to plague the Fighting Scots on the very next kickoff, when a muffed punt was once again recovered by Hoke deep in Scotland territory.
The Bucks’ dual-threat QB Geoffery Thompson would then make Scotland pay with a 13-yard slant pass completion to Jamal Darden and a 15-yard run of his own to set his team up at the goal line. Newsome would notch his second touchdown of the game on a one-yard run to put Hoke up 13-0.
Scotland’s offense first moved the chains in the waning minutes of the quarter after a Hoke late hit resulted in a 15-yard penalty. Two plays later a pass interference call would further advance Scotland to the Hoke 40-yard line, but it was all for naught. The quarter ended with Hoke defensive lineman LaQuest Peterkin notching his second sack of the game on an attempted Scotland fourth down conversion.
The second quarter opened up with the Scots finally getting a break of their own in the form of a lost fumble off the hands of Newsome on the very first offensive play. And though he had a rough first half in general (4 of 14 for 41 yards), Ratliffe came out firing with completions to Tyron Jones and Tralen Jones after the Scotland fumble recovery.
However, the drive once again stalled in the red zone after another failed fourth down conversion gave Hoke the ball back at the 17-yard line.
On the very next play, Newsome would take the hand-off 83 yards for his third touchdown of the game. In the first half alone, Newsome tallied 131 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries.
Scotland’s defense appeared winded near the end of the second quarter as Hoke dominated the time of possession throughout the first two quarters. But the Scots wouldn’t be shut out on offense entirely in the half, as Ratliffe got into a rhythm with two screen passes to running back Jalen McLean. The senior’s second reception for a 23-yard gain would have 15 more tacked on after a face mask penalty was called on the Bucks. The 38-yard swing would put Scotland inside the Hoke 10-yard line, where Scotland’s Josh McPhatter would find a seam in the middle of the Bucks’ interior line for a nine-yard score.
But the Scots nonetheless found themselves down 19-7 heading into halftime, with 13 of Hoke’s points coming off of Scotland turnovers.
The third quarter was a gritty, slow-paced affair as both teams went stagnant on offense. Ratliffe completed a single pass for one yard and McLean would lead all Scotland offensive players with 21 rushing yards.
But in this quarter, it would be Scotland defensive back and punt return specialist Trejon Monley that provided a spark for the sluggish Scots.
After intercepting a Thompson pass on the first play from scrimmage, Monley would be awaiting the Hoke punt after a failed offensive series from both teams. After catching the ball at the Scotland 42-yard line, Monley found the right sideline and turned on the jets for a 58-yard return touchdown. The score would put Scotland down just six points heading into the fourth quarter.
Then the connection between Ratliffe and Gregory happened, and the Bucks were utterly shell-shocked for the remainder of the game.
After another failed series for Hoke, the Bucks watched as a flubbed snap sailed over the head of their kicker which was downed at the Hoke 20-yard line. A few plays later, it would be McLean who would find the end zone with a seven yard TD run, the first of two for McLean in a 20-point Scotland fourth quarter.
With the win, Scotland moves to 7-1 on the season.