Conlee's three touchdowns lead Hico to fourth straight Hamilton County Championship

CALEB MCCAIG cmccaig@empiretribune.com

The Hico Tigers faced a tough test in district and county rival Hamilton Friday night, but had plenty of firepower to claim their fourth straight win in the annual Hamilton County Championship. 

Both teams were slow out of the gates as Hamilton turned the ball over on downs and Hico went three and out on their first possessions to open the game. 

The scoreless deadlock was finally broken with a little under three minutes remaining in the first quarter when Hamilton's quarterback made a poor decision in trying to hit a short stop route. The ball was jumped and intercepted by Cooper Conlee who then finished the play with a 70-yard touchdown return. 

Late in the second quarter, Hico led the Bulldogs 21-7 after an Ethan Warren touchdown run and Hamilton began what most figured to be the final possession of the half. 

Hamilton once again decided to throw the ball and test Conlee's coverage skills and it came back to bite them for a second time. The Hico player once again made a great jump and intercepted his second pass of the night and returned it for another touchdown to extend the Tigers lead to 29-7 with 11 seconds remaining in the half. The wild few seconds of the second half weren't over yet as Hamilton returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown as time expired to take a 29-14 deficit into halftime. 

In the third quarter, Conlee and Hico finally shut the door on Hamilton. 

After several penalties, Hico was facing a 3rd and 17 on their own 11-yard line and elected to run a toss play to Conlee. Poor tackling and solid blocking by the Hico line allowed Conlee to hit the outside and out run all of the Bulldog defenders for what resulted in an 89-yard touchdown run and a 23-point, 37-14 lead. 

Over the rest of the second half, Hico's defense continued to play well only allowing one more score. 

"Anytime you come over here in the Hamilton County Championship you can always kick out the records. Anyone can win in this game," said Hico head coach Keith Wood. "It was they’re homecoming and they had a big crowd. It feels awesome to come out of here with a win, this was the most nervous I had been all year."

Conlee finished the evening with 111 yards on the ground on two carries and two interceptions for two more scores. 

"It’s been an awesome night for him. We’d been waiting kind of all year for him to have a break out game because we know he’s capable of it," said Wood on Conlee's performance. "Tonight, I don’t think it can get larger than what he did."

Running back Jacob Smith ran the ball nine times for 48 yards and a score, while Ethan Warren had 10 carries for 44 yards and two touchdowns. 

Quarterback Briley Johnson only threw two passes on the night and finished with one completion. 

With the win, Hico improves to 5-1 on the season and 2-0 in district play. They'll be back in action next Friday night when they host Valley Mills.