Friday was Antwuan Hillary’s first game as head coach of the Strom Thurmond High School football team. While there were labor pains in the Rebels’ game against Aiken High at Hagood Stadium, the end result made up for the bumpy delivery – a 17-10 victory.

“Everything is a learning experience. But I’d rather learn from a win than from a loss,” said Hillary, who will get to enjoy a bye week before returning to action on Sept. 5 at Silver Bluff. “It was a lot of firsts. First game for me, first game for the quarterback.”

Although this is Tyree Stidem’s first season as Strom Thurmond’s starting quarterback, it’s his fourth on the varsity roster. His experience proved invaluable as his poise in critical situations helped a young Rebel squad from being overwhelmed by the pressure of a tie game late in the fourth quarter on the road.

This wasn’t just his first game as the starting quarterback, it was the first start or significant playing time for a number of Rebels. The youth and inexperienced showed, as Strom Thurmond struggled for stretches, committed 11 penalties – including one that negated a touchdown – lost a fumble and surrendered a safety.

In spite of the mistakes, Stidem’s steady hand, a revitalized running game and a second-half shutout by the defense paved the way to victory. Stidem proved to be as much of a dual threat as his predecessor, Jauveer Hammond. He completed 7 of 13 passes for 150 yards and ran 13 times for 60 yards and two touchdowns. His score on a 15-yard run with 5:24 to play in the game was the decisive score.

“It just came wide open,” Stidem said. “I’ve got to give it up to the offensive line and (running back) Chad (Gilchrist) opened it up.”

After Stidem’s go-ahead score, Aiken got the ball back on its 33-yard line. After doing such a good job moving the ball for much of the first three quarters, the Hornets came up empty on this drive, punting after a penalty and three plays.

With time running out, Aiken’s defense appeared to do the job of stopping the Rebels and giving its offense a chance to get the ball back, even though it would have to drive the length of the field. But on fourth-and-5, as Cole Fell dropped back to punt for Strom Thurmond, the play was whistled dead before the ball was snapped. That’s because the Hornets were flagged for having too many men on the field, giving the Rebels a fresh set of downs.

Aiken looked like it had stopped Strom Thurmond again a minute later and forced another fourth down. Again, the odds wouldn’t have been great for the Hornets to drive down the field with less than a minute to play and no timeouts, but they never got that chance. Aiken was flagged for a personal foul on a late hit on the third-down stop, its 13th penalty in the game. That gave Strom Thurmond another first down and a chance for Stidem to line up in victory formation and ice the win.

“It’s the best feeling in the world to get this first win,” Stidem said. “I tried to keep the team up, didn’t let them get down.”

Aiken lost its focus, but head coach Brian Neal will work to keep his squad from getting down in the close loss when it played so well. But he said there was no denying his team’s mistakes at the end.

“On fouth-and-5, that was inexcusable, and we take full (responsibility),” Neal said. “The effort was good, but we’ve got to learn to finish. We’re going to go back to work and try to get better.”

One player who stood out for the Hornets was quarterback Bryson Jones. It was his first start behind center, and Jones got off to a very good start.

He passed for more than 100 yards in the first half, including a 25-yard touchdown pass to Antawn Chandler in the front, left corner of the end zone that some how got past two Rebel defenders for the score. Jones tried to make things happen with his legs in the second half, but Strom Thurmond effectively eliminated Aiken’s passing game. By bringing more pressure, Jones didn’t have time to look down the field. And without the ability to throw, the Hornets couldn’t move the ball late in the game. They’ll look to improve for next week’s home game against crosstown rival South Aiken.

As Aiken became one-dimensional, Strom Thurmond’s running game took control. No Rebel had a standout rushing performance, but four of them gained at least 40 yards, combining for 199 and eating up the clock.

“I told Chad (11 carries, 40 yards) he had to step it up big time, and Tyree played good,” Hillary said, admitting a sense of relief with getting his first win under his belt. “It feels great. It’s a relief because I’ve been stressed all week to get a win, not for me, but for these guys.”

So on a night of firsts, the one that stands out is the first win.

Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 15 years after graduating from Syracuse University.

ST 0 10 0 7 – 17

AIK 2 8 0 0 – 10



AIK–Snap over Cole Fell’s head, kicked out of end zone for Safety 2:54.


ST–Fell Field Goal 22 yards 8:43.

ST–Tyree Stidem 3 run (Fell kick good) 2:05.

AIK–Bryson Jones 25 pass to Antwan Chandler (Brayton Sanders 2-point conversion run good) 0:31.


ST–Stidem 15 run (Fell kick good) 5:24.



ST–Tyree Stidem 13-60 2TDs, Isreal Talbert 4-56, Chad Gilchrist 11-40, Deion Chinn 6-40, Deandre Ryan 2-3. TOTALS: 36-199 2TDs.

AIK–Brayton Sanders 17-68, Bryson Jones 15-22, Juwan Brown 2-4, Terrell Lewis 7-4, Brycen Carolina 1-0. TOTALS: 42-98.


ST–Stidem 7-13-150.

AIK–Jones 6-7-105 1TD.


ST–Tyrece Nick 2-83, Gilchrist 2-57, Padgett Sumner 2-28, Ryan 1-5.

AIK–Antawn Chandler 2-47-1TD, Brycen Carolina 2-18, Devante Gaiters 1-20, Quamayne Simpkins 1-20.