Walton 51, North Paulding 49

It wasn’t a night where the high score was because each opposing defense necessarily played lousy. It was just a night when both the Walton and North Paulding offenses played really, really well.

The Raiders’ 52-49 victory over North Paulding on the road was an offensive war of attrition. Each score had a response and in the end, a 20-yard field goal from kicker Alex Rupp proved the difference.

Walton head coach Daniel Brunner might have other thoughts about the defensive side of things.

“Offensively we played stellar,” said Brunner. “But defensively, we have got to play better. That is a really good offense, no discounting them. Hats off to North Paulding with what they did. But we have got to play better. A lot of guys were banged up and we were rotating a lot of guys but the boys found a way to win, so I’m proud of that for sure.”

With the game tied at 42, Walton took the 48-42 lead on a touchdown pass from Jeremy Hecklinski to Wyatt Sonderman. But North Paulding found an answer from Jaylen Poe on an 80-yard touchdown run to put the Wolfpack up 49-48 with 11:12 left in the game.

The Walton defense forced North Paulding to punt with 1:26 left in the game, a crucial stop according to Brunner.

“I kept telling them that we have to go out there and get one stop, one stop when it matters,” Brunner said. “And they sure and heck did. The boys stepped up when it mattered most and got the ball back to our offense and we were able to finish it off.”

The offense, led by Hecklinski, mounted a 60-yard drive capped with the game-winning field goal from Rupp.

“You have to be smart with the ball,” Brunner said of the game-winning drive. “We cant have an interception, we just have to protect the ball. We got ourselves in field goal range and at that point it was about making sure that we protected the ball, only hit open receivers and made sure the clock stopped after we threw the ball. He did an excellent job getting us down there and then Alex stepped up big with a field goal.”

The back-and-forth build up throughout the game was exactly that. Call and response. A question… an answer.

Hecklinski passed to Cameran Loyd to give Walton the 7-0 lead. North Paulding tied the game on a run from Jaylen Poe with 6:51 left in the first quarter. Facing fourth-and-goal, Walton regained the lead on a short run by Makari Bodiford with 4:13 left in the first quarter.

North Paulding quarterback Boone Anderson weathered a collapsing pocket, found space and scored from 18 yards out to tie the game at 14 early in the second quarter.

On the next drive, Hecklinski’s 60-yard pass to Loyd gave Walton the 21-14 lead. North Paulding matched the drive and capped it with a 10-yard pass from Anderson to Brayden Autenreith. With 1:18 left before halftime, Hecklinski passed to junior Wyatt Sonderman to put Walton back on top 28-21.

Just before halftime, the Walton defense forced North Paulding to fourth-and-goal and the ensuing field goal cut into the lead 28-24.

Anderson gave North Paulding the 31-28 lead on a 45-yard touchdown pass to Owen Dupree but Walton, again, would respond. The Raiders scored on a touchdown pass from Hecklinski to Loyd. North Paulding cut into the lead on a field goal with five minutes left in the third quarter and again Walton found an answer. This time on a pass from Hecklinski to Hunter Teal to put Walton up 42-34.

Poe scored on a 30-yard touchdown run with 2:18 left in the third quarter and the ensuing 2-point conversion pass from Anderson to Dube Enongene tied the game at 42.

“We just made (defensive) plays when we had to,” Brunner said. “North Paulding has a really good offense, they make you think and they challenged us in a lot of ways and we have a lot to learn from. They just kept coming and coming, when it mattered most.”