NORTH AUGUSTA — First place in Region 4-A was on the line Friday, when the high school football teams from Fox Creek and Williston-Elko faced of at Lions Field. The Predators came into the game riding high, on a four-game winning streak. Winless in their history against the Blue Devils, this game was likely the best chance they've ever had to knock off the kings of the region because of their ability to match power against power.
None of it mattered, as Williston-Elko remained undefeated in region play with a 27-7 win, maintaining a stranglehold over league opponents dating back to 2008 – the last time it lost a Region 4-A contest.
“We're sitting at 3-0 in the region, so it was a big win,” Blue Devil head coach Dwayne Garrick said of the come-from-behind victory. “I'm proud of the whole football team. We got down 7-0 early, one of those deals where the kids could've folded the tent. But the kids played extremely hard, especially in the second half.”
Fox Creek (4-2, 1-1) took an early lead, scoring on its first possession. Quarterback Deondré Baskett drove the Predators 83 yards down the field in eight plays. He gave his team its first-ever lead over the Blue Devils (5-2, 3-0) in program history when he hit Darshon Broadwater in the left flat and saw his speedy receiver spin away from his defender and race to the end zone, finishing a 29-yard touchdown reception.
The lead didn't last long. On the very next play, Williston-Elko pulled even when it scored on a broken kickoff return.
Laurence Phoenix fielded Gavin Snipes kick at his 16 and sprinted for several yards and looked to be stopped near midfield as a scrum of tacklers and blockers collapsed on him. The ball was knocked loose, but teammate Faheem Richburg made a heads-up recovery and never stopped running, although it looked to many players on the field as though the play had come to an end. When Fox Creek's coverage team picked up the pursuit, it was too late as Richburg made it to the end zone.
The teams traded scoreless possessions until the Blue Devils got the ball back early in the second quarter. That's when Garrick went to his bag of tricks and put Marcell Wright behind center, operating a Wildcat offense.
“We worked on couple different things, pick and choose when you use them,” Garrick said of the wildcat. “We've got that as another weapon.”
The change in strategy worked as the Blue Devils drove 76 yards in 11 time-consuming plays. Wright had five carries as the quarterback on the drive, including a 6-yard score that put Williston-Elko ahead for good.
At the start of the second half, it didn't appear that it would stay that way. The Predators got the kickoff and were driving deep into Blue Devil territory. Although top rusher Ikel El was shut down by a Williston-Elko defense that had gameplanned to limit the powerful back, Fox Creek was still able to move the ball thanks to big runs by Dalton Swires (seven carries for 77 yards) and Jaquan Williams (seven carries for 78 yards). But momentum shifted away from the Predators for good when Williams lost the ball as he was fighting for yards near the Blue Devils' 20. Williston-Elko's Trimayne Whetstone recovered the ball and allowed Garrick to go to his bread and butter, and overpower the host team the rest of the way.
“We started clicking when we started playing better defense,” Garrick said. “We're best known for getting in wishbone and pounding the football, that's what we did in the second half.”
Running behind a massive offensive line featuring 300-plus pound tackles Taylor Hearn – a Clemson commitment – and Shawn Chavis, the Blue Devils salted away the win.
Running was vital, as neither team could find any consistency in the passing game and Blue Devil quarterback Dalton Mundy was let down by his receivers who dropped a number of passes. But it wasn't a factor as they ran away for the win.
“They're so strong up front. They're big and well coached,” Fox Creek head coach Russ Schneider said. “They've got tradition and know how to win and expect to win. We're trying to get to that point.”
The Blue Devils fed the ball to Antonio Coleman (14 carries, 100 yards) and Andrew Milligan (15 carries, 139 yards), and both punched in third-quarter touchdowns. Milligan's came on a spectacular 43-yard run that was the final score of the game.
“Antonio had another pretty good night. Andrew Milligan played heck of a football game. A kid who doesn't get a whole lot of credit for us is fullback No. 33 Jerome Evans. He did a great job on kickouts and leads.”
The ball-control running game and a stifling defense clinched the victory. It was the second consecutive week Williston-Elko dispatched a would-be challenger to its region supremacy after throttling Wagener-Salley 62-40.
“I'm disappointed because we could've played to the end,” Schneider said. “We were down 13-7, had the ball and were driving down the field when we fumbled the ball. We had turnovers (two interceptions – both off deflections, one off the receiver), missed blocks and just made too many mental errors. The good news is that's all fixable. I'm disappointed in the missed opportunity but proud of the kids. We can fix everything and we will fix it.”
Schneider and his squad should be able to get well next week when they hit the road to play a struggling North High team. Williston-Elko can all but clinch the Region 4-A title if it wins next Friday in another big game. It's travelling to take on a Hunter-Kinard-Tyler squad led by former Blue Devil star running back Jarius Jenkins. The 2012 All-Aiken Standard first-team selection transferred during the summer.
“We've got a big game next week. H-K-T is very good,” Garrick said. “We've got to try stop the quarterback. Jarius was with us now he's with those guys. He runs the ball extremely well and we've got to play even better defensively than we played this week.”
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.
WE 7 6 14 0 – 27
FC 7 0 0 0 – 7
FC–DeAndre Baskett 29 pass to Darshon Broadwater (Gavin Snipes kick good) 6:45.
WE–Laurence Phoniex kickoff return fumble recovered by Faheem Richburg 84 (Taylor Hearn kick good) 6:29.
WE–Marcell Wright 6 run (Hearn kick no good) 6:33.
WE–Antonio Coleman 3 run (2-point conversion failed) 4:39.
WE–Andrew Milligan 43 run (Devon Fagans 2-point conversion run) 1:35.
WE–Andrew Milligan 15-139 1TD, Antonio Coleman 14-100 1TD, Marcell Wright 5-49 1TD, Devon Fagans 6-22, Christian Sapp 1-2, Dalton Mundy 1-(-15).
FC–Jaquan Williams 7-78, Dalton Swires 7-77, Brett Butler 2-8, Keli Lovett 1-0, Ikel El 5-(-3), Deandré Baskett 6-(-17).
WE–Mundy 3-9-30 1INT.
FC–Baskett 7-13-46 1TD, 2INT.
WE–Trimayne Whetstone, 2-26, Faheem Richburg 1-4.
FC–Darshon Broadwater 1-29 1TD, Swires 3-9, El 3-8.
WE–Christian Sapp 1-12, Wright 1-0.