Strom Thurmond Rebels' run over
MYRTLE BEACH 21, STROM THURMOND 16
JOHNSTON — The Strom Thurmond High School football team didn't have one of its best games on Friday. The team that had avoided big mistakes most of the season and ran through the best efforts of most opponents struggled in both regards. Because of that, the Rebels saw their season come to an end in a 21-16 loss to Myrtle Beach in the third round of the Class AAA playoffs.
Strom Thurmond's outstanding quarterback Jauveer Hammond threw three interceptions against the Seahawks after being picked off only five time previously this season. The running attack was only able to muster 126 yards on 29 carries, well below its season average of more than 254 yards per game.
The struggles were the result of a fine defensive effort by Myrtle Beach (9-4), which will advance to face Marlboro County in the state semifinals next Friday. The Rebels 'season concludes with an 11-2 record and mixed emotions. They're clearly disappointed with the loss, but there's a lot to be proud for the team that had so many questions coming into the 2013 campaign.
“I'm proud of them for being at this point,” Rebels head coach Lee Sawyer said. “With the number of people we graduated, not a lot of people expected us to be here. We had a lot of new faces, and they continued on what we've built here.”
In spite of the miscues and the strong play of the Seahawks, the Rebels still had a chance to extend their season. They trailed by 11 points after Myrtle Beach's Kelton Greene picked off Hammond – for the second time in the game – on the first play of the fourth quarter and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown. Strom Thurmond was still down 21-10 when it got the ball back on its 30-yard line with 6:35 to play.
Hammond got his team within a single possession, orchestrating an 11-play, 70-yard touchdown drive in 2:38 of game time. Hammond capped off the series with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Deandre Ryan. The Rebels' attempt to get within three points – significant since Cole Fell drilled a 38-yard field goal on the final play of the first half – failed when Ryan's 2-point conversion pass was intercepted.
But Strom Thurmond had scored with enough time left on the clock, that if it could get a quick stop from its defense, it would have another chance to win. That's what it needed when an onside-kick attempt was recovered by Myrtle Beach.
But the Rebels defense, which had given up several long passing plays to Seahawk quarterback Drayton Arnold – especially in the first half – rose to the occasion. They forced a three-and-out and were dominant against the run all night – limiting Myrtle Beach to a negative seven yards on the ground after it came into the game having amassed more than 2,000 on the season.
After fielding the Seahawk punt, the Rebels had the ball on their own 27 with 2:13 to play – and no timeouts. Hammond again had his team on the move. He drove them to the Myrtle Beach 40 with 1:35 to play – with most of the ground covered on a 26-yard pass to Kendall Hill, who had a big game with 12 receptions for 183 yards.
But a spike to stop the clock followed by an incompletion left the Rebels in third-and-10, 40 yards away with 1:25 play. Hammond rolled to his right and tried to force a ball in traffic, only to have it intercepted by Jaden Grayer.
“I feel like I didn't play to the best of my ability for my team,” Hammond said after the game, where he completed 26 of 45 passes for 285 yards and a touchdown while running for 57 yards and another score on 18 carries. “They played great defense.”
After the final interception, the Seahawks were able to line up in victory formation. Three kneel downs killed the clock and Strom Thurmond's season.
“The kids didn't quit. We were down 11 late in the game and it didn't look good. But we gave ourselves a chance,” said Sawyer, who pointed to the second-half interceptions as being too much to overcome. “Turnovers hadn't been a problem all year. But the reality was it wasn't that close of a game. It could've been 42-16, they had people open all night.”
Sawyer's team kept the score close because of a critical fumble recovery by linebacker Cody Griffith in his own red zone and because of the pressure the Rebels applied to Arnold. He was off target on several of his passes when he had open receivers, primarily because of a nasty Strom Thurmond pass rush that generated six sacks. Despite the miscues, Arnold persevered and went 12-for-20 for 308 yards and two touchdowns.
“They had a lot of people wide open,” Sawyer said. “They shifted people around for one-on-one situations that weren't good for us. We just got beat a few times.”
Myrtle Beach's ability to limit the Rebel running game was also a huge factor. It gambled that it could handle their receivers one-on-one by committing as many players as possible to stopping the run. The Seahawks brought their safties up and loaded the box, eliminating running lanes.
“We played well up front and the front seven did an outstanding job,” said Myrtle Beach head coach Mickey Wilson. “My hat's off to Coach Sawyer. They do an outstanding job and this is a tough place to play. I'm excited to get the win.”
Sawyer was also complimentary of his players' effort. While it was a challenge to replace so many departed seniors from the 2012 team, he'll have just as great a challenge replacing the seniors who stepped up and led the Rebels to another region championship, especially Hammond.
“He's been a big part of this program for four years,” Sawyer said of his quarterback. “He's a great young man. He didn't have his best game and he's all tore up about it and I feel for him.”
For his part, Hammond said he gave his best effort all the time.
“I just feel like everybody laid it on the line and did the best for the team,” Hammond said, crediting his coaches and teammates. “I did whatever it took.”
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.
MB 0 7 7 7 – 21
ST 0 10 0 6 – 16
ST–Jauveer Hammond 12 run (Cole Fell kick good) 1:14.
MB–Drayton Arnold 63 pass to CJ Finkley (Sean Huggins kick good) 0:48.
ST–Fell 38-yard field goal 0:00.
MB–Arnold 29 pass to Malik Waring (Huggins kick good) 2:01.
MB–Kelton Green 60 interception return (Huggins kick good) 11:44.
ST–Hammond 13 pass to Deandre Ryan (2-point conversion pass failed) 3:57.
MB–Brandon Sinclair 15-13, Drayton Arnold 13-(-20).
ST–Jauveer Hammond 18-57 1TD, Chad Gilchrist 7-46, Delonte Bates 4-23.
MB–Drayton Arnold 12-20-308 2TDs.
ST–Jauveer Hammond 26-45-285 1TD, 3INT, Tyree Stidem 0-1-0.
MB–Graham Vaughn 3-106, Malik Waring 3-86 1TD, CJ Finkley 1-63 1TD, Kelton Greene 3-40, Brandon Sinclair 2-13.
ST–Kendall Hill 12-183, Tyree Stidem 2-62, Deandre Ryan 4-20 1TD, Jequez Harris 4-19, Chad Gilchrist 2-2.
MB–Kelton Greene 2-60 1TD, Jaden Grayer 1-20.