Wildcats lucky and good in upset win over Yellow Jackets
LEXINGTON 18, NORTH AUGUSTA 14
By NOAH FEIT
Lexington might have gotten lucky.
When a pass deflects off one receiver and into the hands of another, allowing him to race 94-yards for the game-winning touchdown, it’s easy to consider that lucky.
But the Wildcats being in position to take advantage of good fortune didn’t have anything to do with luck. It was the result of a tremendous defensive effort, which allowed Lexington to pull off a huge upset in an 18-14 win over previously undefeated North Augusta.
“It went through the first guy’s hands,” North Augusta head coach Dan Pippin said of the pass Lexington quarterback Will Hunter threw from his own 6-yard line that went off intended receiver Brently Allen and found a wide open Ryan Brown, who was well behind the rest of the defense allowing him to run the length of the field untouched – turning a two-point deficit with 1:46 to play into the decisive score. “There’s nothing you can do. It was a fluke play. But give them credit, they made the plays and we didn’t.”
First-year Lexington coach Josh Stepp said the play was designed to be a slant, but turned into much more.
“We hadn’t been successful hitting that all night. Luckily, we got the tip,” Stepp said. “But to be in that position, down here (in North Augusta), against that team. I’m so proud of these kids. They kept battling.”
The Yellow Jackets (6-1, 0-1 Region 5-AAAA) got the ball back with 1:46 to go on their own 20. Quarterback Trib Reece (21-for-34, 213 yards, two touchdowns) drove his team to the Lexington (6-1, 1-0) 33-yard line. But with time running out, the Wildcat defense stood tall. On third-and-6, Reece tried to connect with a diving Keyon West for what would’ve been a spectacular diving touchdown catch if the pass didn’t carry West (13 receptions, 121 yards, one touchdown) out of bounds. Another failed heave on fourth down resulted in a turnover on downs and cemented the Lexington win.
It was a turnover on downs on North Augusta’s previous possession that kept the Wildcats in the game. Leading 14-12, the Yellow Jackets drove 60 yards to get to the Lexington 6, with a second-and-1 situation. Willie McCloud unsuccessfully tried to convert the first down the next two plays, leaving his squad with fourth-and-1.
Pippin said kicking a field goal wasn’t a consideration, giving the ball to McCloud who gained 119 yards on 27 tough running plays was the call.
McCloud never had a chance to convert as he was tackled by a diving Grayson Chumley almost as soon as he took the handoff.
“I thought we had it,” Pippin said of the situation.
Chumley’s tackle was the ultimate example of a superb performance by Lexington’s defense, which surrendered 396 yards, but held North Augusta to 29 points below its season average of 43 per game.
“I can’t say enough about our defense,” Stepp said. “They kept us in the game all night.”
They had the Yellow Jackets off rhythm much of the game. There were lots of stops and starts for them, as they’d convert a first down then get stifled the next few plays. North Augusta ran the ball 47 times, with Dashwan Barnes gaining 74 yards on 15 carries. But the only breakthroughs on the scoreboard came when Reece connected with one of his receivers for a big play. He hooked up with West for a 37-yard touchdown in the first quarter for the early lead and bumped the edge to 14-6 when he hit Dre Dunbar (five receptions, 66 yards) for a 30-yard scoring play late in the third quarter. Other than that, Lexington was always able to get it’s host, who celebrated homecoming, off the field with either a punt or turnover on downs.
“We had chances to make first downs and didn’t do it,” said Pippin, who didn’t get any help when star lineman Jake Whitley suffered a game-ending knee injury late in the first half just a day after the Georgia Tech commitment learned he’d been selected to play in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas. He’ll have an X-ray today and an MRI on Monday to determine the magnitude of the injury that could threaten the rest of his senior season. “We did it all summer and did it all season up to the last two games. It’s on me. I’ve got to do a better job having the team prepared.”
Pippin credited the performance of his defense. Aside from the broken play at the end, it held Hunter under wraps, limiting the senior to 17-for-30 passing for 105 yards otherwise. Garvin Jackson (21 carries, 115 yards, one touchdown) and Chumley (five carries, 31 yards and a fourth quarter score that cut the deficit to 14-12) were effective running the ball, but held in check on the scoreboard when it didn’t get a short field from a North Augusta failed fourth-down conversion.
Lexington is tied for first in the region with Dutch Fork and White Knoll and will play host to South Aiken next Friday. North Augusta will look to rebound when it travels to take on the Timberwolves.
“We’ve got a region loss, but I believe at the end of the day, if we do our job, we’ll be fine,” Pippin said. “There’s a lot of season to go.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard.