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Hickory Wins State Football Championship

Both the Hickory Red Tornadoes and Seventy-First Falcons came into the 3A State Championship match on Friday night with an undefeated season on the line. Hickory walked away with its first NCHSAA Football State Championship since 1996 with a 33-26 win at Kenan Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of North Carolina.

Hickory opened the scoring 5:14 into the game, to take the lead after a 15-play, 74-yard drive culminating in a 2-yard rushing touchdown from Isaiah Lackey. Seventy-First answered accordingly, responding with a 12-play, 72-yard drive capped off by a 13-yard touchdown pass from Deandre Nance to Amire Drummond, just 1:43 before the end of the first quarter.

After trading another pair of touchdowns in the second quarter, Hickory was able to secure a 5-point lead at the break with a 26-yard field goal from Braeden McCourt as time expired.

Coming out of the half, Seventy-First played with fire to complete the longest play so far in the game. In a swift five-play, 88-yard drive, Deandre Nance tore through Hickory’s defense for 38-yards, putting Seventy-First ahead on the scoreboard 19-18.

The fourth quarter brought another burst of adrenaline as Hickory surged forward. In a 10-play, 76-yard drive, Lackey bulldozed his way to a 12-yard rush touchdown, followed by a successful 2-point conversion pass from Damarion Lee, propelling Hickory in front 26-19 lead.

The Falcons answered and tied the game with just 2:42 remaining with a 6-yard touchdown pass caught by Jaydyn Surgeon.

In the finals moments of the game with just 36 seconds on the clock, Hickory clinched the championship as MVP Brady Stober capped a 62-yard game-winning drive with an eight yard touchdown run. Stober finished the night 21-of-30 for 238 yards through the air and 46 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

The Falcons threatened in the dying moments of the game but Hickory’s Will Prince came up with an interception in the end zone as time expired.

Hickory finished the season with a 16-0 record. This is Hickory’s 2nd appearance in the state finals, first since its 1996 title. Seventy-First finished the season with a 15-1 record. This was Seventy-First’s fourth championship appearance in the tying in 1984, winning the championship in 1986 and 2008, and now runner-up in 2023.

A full box score can be accessed here.

The NCHSAA is committed to promoting good sportsmanship and has partnered with the NC Farm Bureau to recognize two athletes from each State Championship event with the NC Farm Bureau Sportsmanship Awards. The Sportsmanship Award winners for the 2023 3A Football State Championship Match were Henry Pitts from Hickory and Melik Thomas from Seventy-First.

In tandem with the Carolina Panthers, the NCHSAA is proud to present Offensive and Defensive Most Valued Player awards to two players from each team. From Seventy-First, Deandre Nance won Offensive MVP and Zayvion Hill won Defensive MVP. Nance scored two touchdowns with 159 rushing and 90 passing yards, his longest throw being 45 yards, while Hill finished the game with 8.5 tackles. From Hickory, Isaiah Lackey won Offensive MVP and Henry Pitts won Defensive MVP. Lackey scored three touchdowns with 113 rushing yards, while Pitts finished the game with 7 tackles.