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Providence’s remarkable rally for a 4A playoff victory Friday night over visiting Hickory Ridge has its roots more than five years ago, on the football field at South Charlotte Middle School.

A seventh-grade tight end by the name of Holland Stallings picked up a football that had landed on the ground, and he tossed it to the coaches.

“I guess I threw a pretty good spiral,” Stallings recalled Friday night, after serving as an architect of a wild second-half comeback for a 44-34 victory.

“We didn’t have a regular quarterback at the time, and the coach said he was impressed with my pass,” Stallings said. “Next thing I knew, I was quarterback.”

And Providence fans are happy for that.

Stallings, a 6-1, 190-pound senior, got the better of a quarterback battle with his Hickory Ridge counterpart, junior Alex Bentley.

Bentley won the first half, throwing for 191 yards and two touchdowns, and running for another score. Stallings won the second half, completing 7-of-8 passes that included a touchdown.

Hickory Ridge (5-3) led 28-7 in the first quarter and 31-13 late in the first half. But the Providence defense turned the Ragin’ Bulls’ big-play passing attack into a short-play offense.

Stallings said he never gave up hope, even when his team’s deficit grew to 21 points in the opening period.

“They weren’t stopping our offense,” he said of Hickory Ridge. “We were able to score. We knew that once the defense tightened up, we could catch up.”

Stallings couldn’t quite remember a comeback victory to equal Friday night’s, even back in his days as a quarterback at age 7 in midget league football in south Charlotte, and then as a tight end-turned-quarterback at South Charlotte Middle.

But he said there was no panic among the Panthers (7-1) at halftime, with Hickory Ridge leading 31-20.

“Coach (Weslee Ward) told us to keep doing what we were doing,” Stallings said. “When we cut their lead to 34-27, I thought the momentum had shifted.”

That happened on Providence’s first possession of the second half. The Panthers drove 80 yards, including two big pass completions by Stallings, and scored on a Jamar Price 5-yard run midway in the third quarter.

The tying score came early in the fourth quarter, after the Panthers had stopped Hickory Ridge on a fourth-down play near midfield. Stallings lofted a 25-yard pass to Anthony Tandoh, and Eddie Czaplicki’s conversion tied it at 34-all.

Providence stopped the Bulls on another fourth-down play minutes later and drove 44 yards for a 1-yard Price touchdown run with 5:03 left.

And when it was all done, the Panthers were left to celebrate and prepare for next week.

“Next week, we get to play that school up the road,” Ward told his team after the game.

He was referring to Butler, which will visit Providence in the quarterfinal round next Friday.

THREE WHO MATTERED

Holland Stallings, Providence: Stallings completed 14-of-19 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a score.

Alex Bentley, Hickory Ridge: The Ragin’ Bulls left-handed junior quarterback completed 22-of-35 passes, with one interception, for 266 yards. He threw for two touchdowns and ran for another.

Jamar Price, Providence: Price ran 25 times for 161 yards and three touchdowns. He also had four pass receptions for 39 yards.

WORTH MENTIONING

Hickory Ridge coach Jupiter Wilson was a riverboat gambler Friday night. He tried to convert on fourth down five times, converting twice. One of those came from the Ragin’ Bulls’ 29, with the score tied at 34-all in the fourth quarter. The Bulls converted with a pass completion on a fake punt. But four plays later, they were stopped on fourth down when Providence’s Jake Gilley tackled Randall Fisher at the Hickory Ridge 42.

Hickory Ridge quarterback Alex Bentley averaged 28 yards on his eight first-half pass completions. But the Providence shut off the long pass in the second half, and Bentley averaged 4.5 yards on his 14 completions.

In a game with 78 points and nearly 900 yards total offense, there were several standout defensive performances. Providence’s Graham MacPhail broke up a pair of potential touchdown passes, and teammate Darren Rice had a pair of tackles that prevented long-yardage plays by the Bulls. Hickory Ridge’s Jeremy Rucker broke up a pair of would-be Providence touchdown passes.

This was the first meeting between the two schools in football.

Hickory Ridge had 225 yards of offense in the first quarter. The Ragin’ Bulls had 382 yards in the first half but just 95 yards after halftime.

Providence receiver Anthony Tandoh had five receptions for 63 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle

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Hickory Ridge 28 6 0 0 — 34

Providence 7 13 7 17 – 44

HR – Sabin McLaughlin Jr. 4 run (Will Laing kick)

HR – Derrick Brinton II 31 pass from Alex Bentley (Laing kick)

PR – Jamar Price 5 run (Eddie Czaplicki kick)

HR – Jordan Marsh 41 pass from Bentley (Laing kick)

HR – Bentley 16 run (Laing kick)

PR – Anthony Tandoh 8 pass from Holland Stallings (kick blocked)

HR – FG Laing 27

PR – Stallings 3 run (Czaplicki kick)

HR – FG Laing 38

PR – Price 5 run (Czaplicki kick)

PR – Tandoh 25 pass from Stallings (Czaplicki kick)

PR – Price 21 run (Czaplicki kick)

PR – FG Czaplicki 40

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