PALESTINE — It was only the first game of the season, but the top-ranked Chapel Hill Bulldogs sent a message throughout the state Friday night: they belong there.
Avery Saenz threw for 395 yards and a career-high seven touchdowns to six different receivers in igniting Chapel Hill’s 74-23 rout of Palestine Westwood. Saenz, who was 12 of 15 passing, accounted for all five of the Bulldogs’ first-half touchdowns and threw two more in the second half before resting the entire fourth quarter.
“It was fun coming out here in the first game of the year and having stats like that,” Saenz said. “You expect to win, but seven touchdowns? That’s a lot.”
Anthony Kincade was the leading receiver, making five catches for 131 yards and a score. Avery Henderson also finished with 125 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
Nelson Onwuzu grabbed two TD receptions, while Andrew Tucker, Patrick Day and Deaveron Dean also were on the receiving of Chapel Hill’s eight total touchdown passes – Day threw a fourth-quarter touchdown in relief of Saenz.
The touchdown passes averaged more than 40 yards in length.
“We’ve got some weapons on offense,” Chapel Hill coach Thomas Sitton said. “Our guys out there on the edge they can catch and run with it.”
It wasn’t all good for Chapel Hill, which racked up 105 yards in penalties, turned the ball over twice and was sacked three times.
“In the first half our effort was not where it needed to be,” Sitton said. “It was first-game stuff; we’ve got a lot of things to clean up.”
Keke Hicks delivered a bright spot for Westwood (0-1), which suffered through an 0-10 season last year, by rushing for a game-high 105 yards and touchdown while adding a 85-yard kickoff return for a score in the first half.
The start to the season for Chapel Hill began with a turnover on the Bulldogs’ first offensive possession, but that was soon followed by scores on five straight drives – all ending with Saenz touchdown strikes.
Saenz swung a pass to his left to Henderson, who raced 58 yards for the game’s first score. On Chapel Hill’s next drive, Onwuzu pulled down a jump ball at the front pylon for a 23-yard touchdown and a 13-0 Bulldogs lead.
The Bulldogs’ next three scoring drives took a total of just five plays, beginning with a 38-yard deep ball to Onwuzu on a post pattern. On Chapel Hill’s very next offensive snap, Saenz fired a bullet to Kincade on the sideline, and the senior receiver did the rest by outrunning the Westwood defense for a 58-yard touchdown.
Westwood got on the board with 49 seconds remaining in the half on Michael Dodd’s 34-yard pass down the middle of the field to Kendrick Ray. The two-point conversion made it 27-8.
Again, it took Chapel Hill just one more snap to answer when Tucker caught a screen pass from Saenz and sprinted 69 yards to the end zone.
The Panthers put an exclamation point on a crazy first half when Hicks returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown, cutting Chapel Hill’s lead to 33-15 before halftime.
No. 1 Chapel Hill 74, Palestine Westwood 23
At Westwood Panther Stadium, Palestine
Chapel Hill 13 20 20 21 — 74
Westwood 0 15 0 8 — 23
CH—Avery Henderson 58 pass from Avery Saenz (kick failed), 5:49.
CH—Nelson Onwuzu 23 pass from Saenz (Tyler Brown kick), 1:48.
CH—Onwuzu 38 pass from Saenz (Brown kick), 11:21.
CH—Anthony Kincade 58 pass from Saenz (Brown kick), 5:51.
PW—Kendrick Ray 34 pass from Michael Dodd (Ray pass from Dodd), :49.
CH—Andrew Tucker 69 pass from Saenz (kick failed), :30.
PW—Keke Hicks 85 kickoff return (Pedro Umanzor kick), :15.
CH—Tucker 65 run (Brown kick), 11:30.
CH—Patrick Day 28 pass from Saenz (kick failed), 7:14.
CH—Deaveron Dean 39 pass from Saenz (Brown kick), 3:24.
CH—Henderson 10 pass from Day (Brown kick), 11:32.
CH—Christman Weeks 12 fumble return (Brown kick), 10:29.
PW—Hicks 55 run (pass failed), 7:51.
CH—Londreyus Johnson 32 run (Brown kick), 4:41.
PW—Safety, tackled in end zone, 2:33.
First Downs 19 8
Rushes-Yards 31-161 40-147
Passing Yards 453 93
Comp.-Att.-Int. 15-18-0 3-9-2
Punts-Avg. 0-0 4-18.5
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 7-2
Penalties-Yards 14-105 5-37
RUSHING—Chapel Hill, Andrew Tucker 4-82, Londreyus Johnson 2-35, Rex Rollins 3-33, Jay Reagan 5-27, Jalen Williams 6-26, Avery Saenz 6-0, Joseph Clark 1-(-1), Patrick Day 4-(-41). Westwood, Keke Hicks 8-105, Nick Hicks 10-28, Michael Dodd 11-21, Tadarius Edwards 2-4, Aaryon Robinson 9-(-11).
PASSING—Chapel Hill, Saenz 12-15-0-395, Day 3-3-0—58. Westwood, Dodd 3-9-2—93.
RECEIVING—Chapel Hill, Anthony Kincade 5-131, Avery Henderson 5-125, Nelson Onwuzu 2-61, Tucker 1-69, Deaveron Dean 1-39, Day 1-28. Westwood, Kendrick Ray 2-41, Jhamerrick Milton 1-52.