JOHNSTON — Fourth down.
It's something that teams try to avoid.
On Friday night, it was the difference between Strom Thurmond and Hartsville.
In the first half, it looked like all of the breaks were going the Rebels' way. In the second quarter on fourth and goal at the 8-yard line, the Rebels turned the Red Foxes away. A second attempt came just a few plays later, this time from the 9-yard line. It yielded the same result.
Both times, the Red Foxes tried to pass on the “Blue Steel” defense, and both times they were unable to connect, the first being a pass that was heaved out of bounds, and the second featured a great deflection by Demetrius Leysath.
“We came here to try and win the game, and I wasn't about to swap 3s with Strom Thurmond,” Hartsville head coach Jeff Calabrese said. “They score 46 points a game, and I felt like, even though it was tough sledding, we needed to take a shot. We have great players of our own, and we wanted to put it in their hands to try and score seven points. Now it didn't work, and luckily, we won because I'd look like a big old idiot if we didn't.”
The Rebels were able to turn the second stop into opportunity, scoring the game's first points on a 7-minute drive that encompassed 15 plays and 95 yards with Jauveer Hammond capping it off.
To end the half, the Rebels once again stopped the Red Foxes, this time on the 17-yard line on a fourth-and-8. Three separate trips to the red zone, and Hartsville had nothing to show for it.
“There were lots of fourth-down stops in the first half. That was big; it kept us with the lead. We showed a lot of heart,” Strom Thurmond head coach Lee Sawyer said.
Later in the game, in a reversal of fortune, the Rebels found themselves going for it on fourth down. With 4 yards separating them from the goal, the Rebels had a bobbled snap where Jauveer Hammond had to fall on the ball. Another score at that moment could have sealed the game, but it left the door open for the Red Foxes, who marched 96 yards to take the lead.
Of course, that drive had a pivotal fourth down of its own. With 5:23 remaining, the Red Foxes were faced with a fourth-and-3 on their own 47-yard line. After a timeout and with the clock looming large, Trey Samuel rushed 19 yards down the sideline to put the visitors in business.
“We looked a little passive on the slot back,” Sawyer said.
Across the field, Sawyer's counterpart knew that single rush turned the tides of a game that the Rebels had led since the second.
“We knew we had to be aggressive at any little thing to win this game,” Calabrese said. “At halftime, we told the kids that Strom Thurmond was a good football team. We told them that before we got here, but we needed someone to make some plays. We felt like in the first half that Strom Thurmond made the plays. Our defense was phenomenal at coming up with that stop, and on offense they stuffed us all night, but we were able to find something there at the end.”
Scott Rodgers is a graduate of Alvernia University and a staff writer at the Aiken Standard.