JOHNSTON — Persistence paid off on Friday for Strom Thurmond. And having a prayer answered helped out too.
The Rebels advanced to the Class AAA Lower State semifinals following a 31-13 win over Marlboro County. Even when they struggled to find traction with the running game in the first half, the Rebels (11-1) stuck with it and finished the game with 223 yards on the ground on 47 carries – an average of 4.7 yards per carry.
“We did a real good with patience,” Strom Thurmond head coach Lee Sawyer said of sticking with the run, especially after making a few key halftime adjustments. “We had a little better execution and we neutralized (6-foot tall, 305-pound nose guard Daryus Gillespie) better in the second half. We got some double teams on him and some chips too.”
The ability to better execute the running game was important for the Rebels. It allowed them to kill the clock after building a double-digit halftime lead. With 8 seconds left to play in the opening half, Strom Thurmond only led 7-0. That was when a prayer was answered.
Quarterback Jauveer Hammond’s 52-yard Hail Mary pass was tipped and landed in the arms of Kendall Hill who crossed the goal line with no time remaining to double the Rebels’ lead and give them all of the momentum heading into halftime.
“That was huge going into halftime with a two-score lead,” Sawyer said of the play that very nearly didn’t happen.
Strom Thurmond got the ball on its own 20-yard line with 1:12 to play in the first half and was going to try and operate a 2-minute drill to pad the lead it built on Darius Hammond’s 4-yard touchdown run. But the strategy changed after first down, when Jauveer was sacked. The Rebels then tried to run out the clock, giving the ball to Darius on second down.
Sensing an opportunity, Marlboro County called a time out to try and get the ball back with a chance for a last-second score of its own. The move backfired when Darius ran for 19 yards on third down, giving the Rebels another chance.
“We were going to get the ball to start the second half, and the initial plan was to play it safe,” Sawyer said. “Then Darius got some good yards on the draw, and I thought, ‘What the heck. Give it a shot.’”
On first-and-10 from his own 40, Jauveer hit Ty Brooks (three receptions, 72 yards) with a quick out to the right flat, which he pitched to Darius on a designed lateral for an 8-yard gain that stopped the clock when he was forced out of bounds. That gave Jauveer one last chance, and after rolling to his left to buy some time and let his receivers get down field, he unleashed a high-arching spiral that came down in a mass of players and appeared to be deflected to Hill.
“That was big,” Jauveer said. “The momentum helped us.”
Actually, the momentum didn’t carry through the start of the third quarter. Strom Thurmond went three-and-out on the first possession of the second half and immediately saw its lead shrink on the next series when Marlboro County quarterback London Johnson hit a wide open Fred Davis on the sideline, allowing Davis to out run the Rebel defense for a 70-yard touchdown.
But as it had whenever it was challenged, Strom Thurmond responded. Jauveer and Darius combined on 11 carries for 65 yards in little more than 3Ĺ minutes to regain full control. Jauveer finished the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run and scored again on a 7-yard scamper 4 minutes later to put the game out of reach.
“Answering that score was another big thing,” Sawyer said. “It was like the guys said they’re close enough.”
For the game, Jauveer ran for 118 yards on 22 carries while Darius was just shy of the century mark, finishing with 96 yards on 19 carries. Jauveer also completed 8 of 13 passes for 147 yards.
The Bulldogs (8-4) never quit, and scored on another long pass midway through the fourth quarter. Xavier Adams – who came in at quarterback after Johnson was knocked out by a clean, but viscous hit by Kenyatta Dunbar – threw a 30-yard pass that was deflected but still wound up in the hands of Raheem Ward. But Marlboro County never got any closer, in spite of a spirited effort that turned into bad blood late in the game.
Adams was moving the Bulldogs again when he was sacked for a 9-yard loss on first down at the Rebel 29. Players continued to be engaged after the whistle and tempers boiled over as a Marlboro County player started throwing punches and nearly caused a melee to break out. When order was restored, the Bulldogs were assessed two personal fouls that drove them further back, and after a sack split by Johntavious Jackson and Dunbar, they were faced with fourth-and-60.
It was a strong showing for Strom Thurmond’s defense, limiting Marlboro County to 190 yards from scrimmage, including just 21 running. After being pinned on its own 25 to start the game, it forced a turnover on downs setting the tone for the game. It made its final stand forcing the Bulldogs to punt and the Rebels ran out the clock for their closest win of the season.
“When it gets to this time of year, it gets a lot tougher,” Sawyer said of the level of competition, which will be even tougher next Friday when Strom Thurmond must travel to play Hanahan, a 34-26 winner over Myrtle beach. “We’re going down there. … It’s huge to make the round of eight. It’s an elite group, but we’ll get to work in the morning.”
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.
MC 0 0 7 6 – 13
ST 14 14 3 – 31
ST–Darius Hammond 4 run (Trent Miller kick) 10:39.
ST–Jauveer Hammond 52 pass to Kendall Hill (Miller kick) 0:00.
MC–London Johnson 70 pass to Fred Davis (Andrew Cook kick) 8:54.
ST–Jauveer Hammond 5 run (Miller kick) 5:16.
ST–Jauveer Hammond 7 run (Miller kick) 1:19.
ST–Trent Miller 27 field goal 8:02.
MC–Xavier Adams 30 pass to Raheem Ward (Xavier Adams 2-point run failed) 7:38.
MC–Reggie Bright 10-36, London Johnson 6-7, Fred Davis 1-2, Jaquan Cole 2-(-1), Xavier Adams 2-(-21).
ST–Jauveer Hammond 22-118-2TD, Darius Hammond 19-96-1TD, James McKie 6-9.
MC–London Johnson 3-14-88-1TD, Xavier Adams 3-4-81-1TD.
ST–Jauveer Hammond 8-13-147-1TD.
MC–Fred Davis 1-70-1TD, Jamal Stanton 2-37, Raheem Ward 1-30-1TD, Andre underwood 1-21, Mike McManus 1-11.
ST–Ty Brooks 3-72, Kendall Hill 1-52-1TD, Darius Hammond 4-23.