Don't tell anyone playing in, coaching, or just watching Friday's high school football game between crosstown rivals Aiken and South Aiken that there was nothing at stake.
Despite losing records and long-shot playoff scenarios, the Battle of Aiken was as fierce as ever. It was evident in the way South Aiken students rushed onto the field to celebrate with the players following the Thoroughbreds' 28-21 victory that was their first in the series since 2007. It was as plain to see in the way several Aiken (2-9) players knelt on the ground, hanging their heads – despite their best performance in more than a month – after the seniors played their final game at Hagood Stadium.
“It's pretty nice,” a soaking-wet Jeremy West said after getting doused by his players, on the feeling of getting his first win over the Hornets in three tries as South Aiken's head coach after failing to be a part of a victory when he previously served as a T-Bred assistant coach. “It's one of the reasons I wanted to come back. It's nice to put the kids in a position to do that.”
South Aiken (2-9) was in that position because of a stellar night by senior DeAndre Schoultz. The player who does a little bit of everything for the T-Breds – including playing receiver, running back, kick returner, Wildcat quarterback and defensive back – did a little bit of everything in what might have been his final high school football game. Schoultz, who was selected to play in the North-South All-Star Football Game, didn't actually score a touchdown – one of the few things he didn't do – but he was the main reason why South Aiken was able to score four of them.
Schoultz had seven receptions for 130 yards. All of them came on the various scoring drives, including a 26-yard reception that converted a third-and-15 play on the T-Breds' final scoring drive that gave them just enough room to hold off the Hornets. Adam Allen got the final yard on fourth-and-goal to score the touchdown on the drive kept alive by Schoultz.
“I'm going to miss him a lot. He brings a lot to the table,” West said of Schoultz, who left his team in good field position with three kickoff returns for 95 yards and had one carry for 16 yards. He had another run where he scored a 60-yard touchdown, but it was negated by a holding penalty. “I'm glad he had a game like this versus our rival and showed his skills.”
Despite his tremendous performance, Schoultz deferred credit.
“I'm the one with the ball in my hands, but I'm not the only one doing work. There are 11 players on the field making a play possible,” said Schoultz, who appreciated getting a win over Aiken. “I'm happy and proud. I'm happy for the school, and I'm most happy for Coach West. He's a great coach and like a father figure.”
On the first possession of the game, The T-Breds drove 58 yards on a drive spurred on by two Schoultz receptions for 30 yards. The final score came when quarterback Bo Baldwin decided to run on third-and-24 from the 25-yard line and weaved around defenders before finding the end zone. For the game, Baldwin ran for 54 yards on seven carries and also competed 10 of 17 passes for 158 yards.
“Bo can run,” West said. “He's a tough kids just with bad luck. I know he can do it.”
Schoultz had a 37-yard catch on South Aiken's second scoring drive, a series that ended when Damion Brown scored on a 1-yard run. Brown, who had 66 yards on nine carries, scored a second touchdown later in the second quarter when he broke free for a 38-yard run. On that drive, Schoultz had two receptions for 32 yards.
While Schoultz was the biggest star for the T-Breds, Leon Simmons was just as good – and just as versatile – for the Hornets. Filling in at quarterback following the season-ending injuries to Nakeem Spann and Will Heggs, Simmons was solid throwing the ball. He completed 6 of 9 passes for 60 yards and an 11-yard touchdown to Deshone Blocker on fourth-and-8 in the fourth quarter, a score that kept Aiken's hopes alive.
The Hornets were in contention because of Simmons outstanding running. He had 15 carries for 131 yards and two touchdowns. Most of his yards were hard earned on runs up the middle, but he did break loose for a 78-yard touchdown that tied the score at 14-all in the first half. Simmons added five tackles, but he and his defensive teammates couldn't get the T-Breds' off the field after Simmons' touchdown pass with 5:08 to play. South Aiken ran out the clock and started a celebration.
“We missed tackles, had blown coverages and penalties were big on that last drive,” said Aiken coach Carey Johnson said. “The same thing happened all year long, just not playing good sound football.”
While Johnson was critical, he was also supportive of his squad that fought valiantly despite already being eliminated from postseason contention.
“They played hard and laid it on the line,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty good football game to watch from the stands, unfortunately I wasn't there. (This season) wasn't up to our expectations, but I'm proud of the kids sticking in there in working hard. We just need to make adjustments in the offseason and work hard to get better.”
While Aiken's season is definitely over, South Aiken still has a slim shot to make the playoffs as an at-large berth. The daunting schedule that the T-Breds' faced might help them make the playoffs through the points system. West said he'll discover his fate after a meeting this morning.
“Even if this is our last game, it's a good way to go out,” he said. “We had a lot of young guys step up and hopefully this will spring board us into the offseason. … It's big for us to get two wins in region, two more than we've had since I've been here. Hopefully it will lead to a brighter future.”
Noah Feit is the Sports Editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.
SA 7 14 0 7 – 28
AIK 7 7 0 7 – 21
SA–Bo Baldwin 25 run (Owen Meyers kick) 6:34.
AIK–Leon Simmons 8 run (Troy Bengue kick) 1:59.
SA–Damion Brown 4 run (Meyers kick) 11:56.
AIK–Simmons 78 run (Bengue kick) 10:17.
SA–Brown 38 run (Meyers kick) 2:39.
SA–Adam Allen 1 run (Meyers kick) 9:16.
AIK–Simmons 11 pass Deshone Blocker (Bengue kick) 5:08.
SA–Damion Brown 9–66-2TD, Bo Baldwin 7–54-1TD, Adam Allen 15-31-1TD, DeAndre Schoultz 1-16.
AIK–Leon Simmons 15-131–2TD, Gabe Green 9-49, D'Andre Pope 12-29, Markese East 2-6, Terrell Lewis 1-4.
SA–Bo Baldwin 10-17-158.
AIK–Leon Simmons 6-9-60, Devante Gaiters 0-1-0.
SA–DeAndre Schoultz 7-130, Bryan Sapp 2-26, Will Holbrook 1-2.
AIK–Jallen Hightower 2-25, Deshone Blocker 3-24, D'Andre Pope 1-11.