GRANITEVILLE — Next year, Midland Valley and Aiken High will be rivals in Region 5-AAA after the Hornets move down a class following realignment. For now though, they remain area foes who are regulars on the early-season football schedule.
“They’re going to be in our conference next year,” said Rick Knight, Midland Valley’s head coach. “If it’s going to be a rivalry, we’ve got to hold up our end.”
It wasn’t easy, but that’s what the Mustangs did Friday night at L.L. Willis Stadium. They jumped out to an early lead and staved off the Hornets’ best performance of the season in a 42-35 win that snapped a 10-game losing streak to Aiken.
Midland Valley (2-1) got its first win in the series since 1998 because of a standout night by its star players.
• Dré Carr overcame a swarming Aiken defense that had its sights set on stopping the junior running back with 19 carries for 108 yards and three touchdowns.
• Sophomore quarterback Daniel Carr overcame three turnovers (two interceptions and a fumble) and completed 19 of 27 passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns.
• In his first game back since tweaking his MCL, junior receiver Kameron Brown displayed why he’s expected to be among the best pass catchers in the area with seven receptions for 130 yards and two touchdowns.
“I don’t think he dropped a pass,” Knight said. “We did what we could and executed. … That’s what we count on from them.”
Midland Valley needed every bit of production from it’s stars because Aiken (0-3) finally found a rhythm on offense. The Hornets went away from the Wing-T and option looks it had run in the first two games of the season early on Friday and had a great deal of success. Using a variation of a single-back, two tight end look, the Hornets gained 195 yards on the ground and Caleb Heath had the best game of his young career.
Heath completed 11 of 24 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran the ball 10 times for 77 yards and another score.
“Heath is getting better and better throwing,” said first-year Aiken head coach Brian Neal. “He’s struggled (in past games) because we haven’t protected him, but the offensive line played pretty good. But Heath is a heck of a leader.”
“That’s what I thought he’d be like. He seemed to click,” Knight said of Heath, who operated the new looks before the Hornets went back to the Wing-T in the second half. “They threw some stuff at us we hadn’t seen.”
In the first quarter, Aiken had trouble lining up and running a play. It committed a series of damaging false start and illegal motion penalties that stifled drives before they got started.
Some bad snaps to Heath in the shotgun also rendered several plays moot.
“The penalties were very frustrating,” Neal said of his team’s 11 infractions.
The sluggish start was exactly opposite of how the Mustangs stormed out of the gates. After taking the opening kickoff, they drove 81 yards in four plays for a touchdown, with Brown hauling in a 65-yard pass before catching a 13-yard touchdown strike. That was followed by a 37-yard, five play drive that culminated in Dré Carr’s 3-yard touchdown run.
On it’s next possession, Midland Valley looked like it was going to turn the contest into a rout. But Dramel Coleman delivered the biggest play of the season for Aiken, interception a Daniel Carr pass and returning it 60 yards for a touchdown. From that play on, the Hornets were in the game, which turned into a back-and-forth shootout.
“We survived,” Knight said. “It seemed like we had to score every time.”
Midland valley scored the same ways in the second quarter as it had in the first, a Dré Carr run and a Daniel Carr pass to Brown. But the Hornets notched their first offensive touchdown since the season-opener two weeks ago when Heath hit a streaking Antwan Chandler on a 25-yard touchdown. Chandler had a big game with six receptions and two touchdowns – including the final score of the game that got Aiken within seven points with little more than a minute to play. But when Trenton Baughman fielded an onside kick, the Mustangs were able to kill the clock and move their record above .500 for the first time since 2010.
Early in the fourth quarter, it looked like Midland Valley might break open the game again with a 14-point lead. But as he had earlier, Coleman delivered a terrific play. He bobbled a kickoff return then streaked 72 yards to put the Hornets back in scoring position. Fittingly, he finished the drive with a 7-yard touchdown run.
Coleman finished with six carries for 54 yards, one catch for four yards, the big kickoff return, the interception, a forced fumble and four tackles.
“Dramel is a tremendous athlete and playmaker,” Neal said. “We’ve got to find a way to get him the ball more on offense, but it’s hard because it seems like he plays every single down.”
Although the Hornets couldn’t notch their first win of the season, they made tremendous progress and have a foundation of proven success to build on for bigger and better things.
“We’re taking steps in the right direction. But to these 16 and 17 year olds, the bottom line is it was a loss. Three losses in a row is tough to swallow, so it’s the coaches’ charge to keep morale up,” said Neal, who’s team will host Richland Northeast next Friday. “If the kids handle it right, this can be a step in the right direction.”
Knight said he wasn’t ready to look ahead to next week, when he’ll take his Mustangs to Petticoat Junction for a showdown against Silver Bluff.
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.
AIK 7 14 7 7 – 35
MV 14 14 0 14 – 42
MV–Daniel Carr 13 pass to Kameron Brown (Jaquan McCorkle kick good) 10:36.
MV–Dré Carr 3 run (McCorkle kick good) 6:14.
AIK–Dramel Coleman 60 interception return (Jacob Norton kick good) 0:39.
MV–Dré Carr 3 run (McCorkle kick good) 9:19.
AIK–Caleb Heath 25 pass to Antwan Chandler (Norton kick good) 6:25.
MV–Daniel Carr 17 pass to Kameron Brown (McCorkle kick no good) 4:34.
AIK–Heath 23 run (Norton kick good) 7:52.
MV–Dré Carr 15 run (Daniel Carr pass to Brown for 2-point conversion) 10:55
AIK–Coleman 7 run (Norton kick good) 9:31.
MV–Daniel Carr 4 pass to Christian Beecher (McCorkle kick no good) 2:53.
AIK–Heath 13 pass to Chandler (Norton kick good) 1:03.
AIK–Caleb Heath 10–77 1TD, Nakeem Spann 14-60, Dramel Coleman 6-54 1TD, Quamaye Simpkins 1-8, Jacob Norton 2-(-4). Totals: 33-195.
MV–Dré Carr 19-108 3TDs, Daniel Carr 10-26, Jacob Koon 1-3, Team 2-(-3). Totals: 32-134.
AIK–Heath 11-24-117 2TDs.
MV–Daniel Carr 19-27-219-2 3TDs.
AIK–Antwan Chandler 6-81 2TDs, Jaylen Smith 1-19, Quamaye Simpkins 2-7, Marquis Adams 1-6, Coleman 1-4.
MV–Brown 7-130 2TDs, Beecher 5-29 1TD, Stephon Morency 3-27, Justin Mealing 3-26, Trenton Baughman 1-7.
AIK–Coleman 1-60 1TD, Joe Bettis 1-12.
Photo by Mike Adams Dre Carr (3) of Midland Valley runs for a first down against Aiken. Carr scored three touchdowns in the win.×
Daniel Carr (1) of Midland Valley scrambles from the pocket as Tremaine Gaffney (9) of Aiken makes a diving attempt at a tackle. Mike Adams photo.×
Midland Valley's Kameron Brown (11) makes a nice run after the catch against the Hornet defense.×
Aiken Hornet Nakeem Span (7) turns on the afterbunners as Michael Herndon (8) of Midland Valley tries to make the stop. Mike Adams photo.×
Aiken's Mike Mitchell (85) grabs Dre Carr(3) of Midland Valley from behind after he runs for a nice gain. Mike Adams photo.×