As the game clock displayed zeroes at the end of Friday night's game between Greenwood and South Aiken, T-Breds head coach Jeremy West delivered an impassioned speech to his team. South Aiken had just taken the defending Class 4A, Division II state champions to the wire in front of a rowdy home crowd, entering the fourth quarter with the lead, before ultimately falling, 17-10.
“I think we showed we can compete with the upper echelon,” West said of the near-upset. “It shows that we're making strides. We're not quite where we want to be yet, but this is definitely a movement in the right direction.”
The Eagles' (1-0) narrow escape looked like it would be anything but a tight squeeze early on. Greenwood marched down the field on its opening drive, moving 67 yards in six plays. Octavious Morgan punctuated the drive, giving the Eagles a 7-0 lead just under four minutes into the game.
After that initial possession, the T-Breds (1-1) adjusted their defense in an effort to slow down Greenwood's explosive playmakers. It worked, as South Aiken kept the Eagles off the scoreboard for over 34 minutes of game action.
“We started moving the front around,” said West of the defensive switch. “We'd line up in one thing, and, then, by the time they'd snap the ball, we'd move to something else.”
Rasool Clemons led the charge defensively for the T-Breds. Clemons routinely engulfed Eagles behind the line of scrimmage, his pressure resulting in hurries or hits to stall Greenwood drives.
South Aiken struggled early to find a rhythm offensively. The Eagles stonewalled the T-Breds' rushing attack while pressuring quarterback Bo Baldwin into some hurried throws. West praised his offensive line's performance, which stood up time after time to a heavy Greenwood rush.
The T-Breds dominated the field position battle in the second quarter, starting two drives in Greenwood territory. The second produced the game's tying touchdown midway through the frame. Baldwin eluded the rush on fourth-and-7 before firing a 26-yard touchdown strike to Damien Brown.
A lengthy third-quarter drive ended in a 33-yard field goal by Owen Myers, giving the T-Breds a lead they would carry into the game's final frame.
Greenwood struck with quickness in the fourth. Its first play of the period, a 25-yard Morgan sprint, was compounded by a personal foul penalty on the tackle. Four plays later, Morgan broke the plane for his second score of the night.
South Aiken looked to answer back, but turned the ball over at their own 16-yard line.
The Eagles had an opportunity to slam the door shut but were forced to settle for a long Jon Croft Hollingsworth field goal. Hollingsworth attempted another kick minutes later, but it drifted wide left to give the T-Breds one final shot.
80 yards from a tie game with a minute to play and no timeouts, South Aiken needed to move quickly. The T-Breds advanced to midfield before a fumble allowed Greenwood to run out the clock.
South Aiken will face another major test next Friday night, hosting Northwestern.
G 7 0 0 10 17
SA 0 7 3 0 10
G - Octavious Morgan 8 run (Jon Croft Hollingsworth kick) 8:06
SA - Bo Baldwin 26 pass to Damien Brown (Owen Myers kick) 6:52
SA - Myers 33 field goal 3:35
G - Morgan 3 run (Hollingsworth kick) 9:45
G - Hollingsworth 44 field goal 6:52
G - CJ Jackson 29-130, Octavious Morgan 12-89-2, Joseph Rapp 1-23, DJ Wright 4-22, Trey Hampton 1-4, Kaleb Chalmers 1-(-7). Totals 48-261-2.
SA - Adam Allen 8-20, Bo Baldwin 12-15, Damien Brown 7-4, Rod Wise 1-0. Totals 28-39.
G - CJ Jackson 0-7-0.
SA - Bo Baldwin 8-19-111-1.
G - None.
SA - Skyler Lightbody 3-42, Damien Brown 1-26-1, Adam Allen 1-23, Matt Albertson 2-18, Will Holbrook 1-2. Totals 8-111-1.