A night of firsts for the Strom Thurmond Rebels ended with head coach Antwuan Hillary's first career victory at his alma mater, as the Rebels were able to overcome some Week Zero growing pains en route to their 17-10 win at Aiken.
“It was a lot of firsts for everybody; it was a first for me, a first for my quarterback,” Hillary said. “The biggest thing is getting back to the drawing board, looking at the film and correcting the things that we made mistakes on.”
Aiken scored the game's first points on Strom Thurmond's first drive. The Rebels were set to punt from deep in their own territory when a high snap sent the ball into the end zone. The resulting safety put the Hornets ahead, 2-0, near the end of the first quarter.
Strom Thurmond answered back, and the Rebels looked poised to carry a 10-2 lead into the halftime break, but a pair of costly penalties aided Aiken in a 69-yard scoring drive to even the game.
Aiken quarterback Bryson Jones connected with Antwan Chandler for 22 yards to move the ball into Strom Thurmond territory. A personal foul added 15 yards to the play, putting the Hornets in striking distance with under two minutes to go in the second quarter. A pass interference call on the next play gave Aiken a first down just outside of the red zone.
The Hornets made the Rebels pay, as Jones and Chandler hooked up again, this time for a 25-yard touchdown pass with just 31 seconds to play. Brayton Sanders ran in the 2-point conversion to tie the game, bringing the home crowd at Hagood Stadium to its feet.
Another penalty, a personal foul committed well behind return ace Deandre Ryan on the ensuing kickoff, wiped out a 90-yard return touchdown, sending the Rebels and Hornets into the locker rooms tied at 10.
“(Mistakes) made it extremely hard,” said Hillary. “But when you're in the heat of the battle, you can't worry about a penalty ... I'm just glad we were able to overcome it.”
Despite the miscues in the game's first three quarters, Strom Thurmond turned in a clean slate when it mattered the most. The Rebels turned to Stidem and running back Chad Gilchrist, who took over the game's final period.
Stidem passed for 150 yards and ran for 60 more on the night, while Gilchrist bounced back from a rough start to record 29 of his 41 rushing yards in the fourth quarter.
Benefactors of sloppy play for most of the game, Aiken returned the favor late, committing a pair of penalties on the Rebels' final drive to ultimately allow Strom Thurmond to run out the clock.
The first occurred with the Rebels prepared to punt. Aiken broke the huddle with 12 men on the field, giving Strom Thurmond an automatic first down with the game near the two-minute mark.
The next, a personal foul committed with a minute to play, effectively ended the game; the Rebels were able to take a knee and give their head coach his first win.
The Rebels will have a week off to get back to the drawing board before a Sept. 5 trip to Silver Bluff.