AIKEN 14, SOUTH AIKEN 10
At the start of Aiken High School's rivalry football game against South Aiken, it was clear lots of things weren't working for the Hornets.
The scoreboard was malfunctioning, forcing the officials to keep the time on the field for Friday's game at Hagood Stadium. Beyond that, the Hornets' offense was struggling, going three-and-out on its first three possessions and not recording a first down until the final play of the first half.
Those drives were positive compared to Aiken's other first-half possession. Trailing by three points, the Hornets had first-and-10 from the Thoroughbreds' 11-yard line following a great punt return. But the red zone drive imploded as soon as the ball was snapped.
From the pistol formation, quarterback Bryson Jones mishandled the snap, and never recovered it as South Aiken linebacker Rasool Clemons pounced on the loose ball. It was the first of two of Jones' fumbles recovered by Clemons – who recently committed to Virginia and also recorded two sacks.
But Jones was able to ultimately recover. In spite of all of Aiken's failings through the first three quarters and any missed opportunities, it rallied from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter for a 14-10 win over South Aiken.
“To get that first win, it's good,” Aiken head coach Brian Neal said. “We've talked about making plays to win instead of plays to lose. Tonight we made a couple of those. Getting that ‘W' will bring some merit to what we're trying to teach.”
The win snapped the Hornets' eight-game losing skid that dated back to last season, Neal's first in Aiken (1-1). It also was their first win over their crosstown rivals since 2011, having lost back-to-back games to the T-Breds for the first time since 1990.
“They deserved to win,” South Aiken head coach Jeremy West said after his squad's season-opening loss. “They fought the whole time.”
Aiken's fight finally bore fruit in the fourth quarter. South Aiken led 10-0 after Malik Lee's 1-yard touchdown run and seemed to be in total control of the game. In desperate need of a shift in momentum, the Hornets got it when Jones connected with Antawn Chandler on a 51-yard touchdown pass that saw Chandler shake a tackle before streaking down the sideline for a score.
“Antawn Chandler breaking that long catch and run kind of got things going for us,” Neal said, admitting that he was considering benching Jones in the second half. “Early on he was making some mistakes; we even thought about taking him out, but it's early in the season and that's the guy we're going to ride.
“You've got to learn to make mistakes and come back, and he did that. So I'm excited about that part of it.”
The game shifted dramatically in Aiken's favor on the ensuing kickoff. Jacob Norton, one of the top placekickers in the Aiken area, mishit the ball and sent it out of bounds. Rather than take the ball at his own 35, West chose to make Norton kick it again. The move backfired.
Not only did Norton's second attempt land inside the 10, but the T-Breds were flagged for two blocks in the back. Instead of first-and-10 on the 35, they started the drive at their 5-yard line.
“I wanted a chance to return the kick and make something happen. We were struggling on offense,” explained West, saying he was responsible and the target of any criticism. “It comes down to me. I should've done a better job calling plays. The effort was there, and I told the players they have nothing to be ashamed of and not to hang their heads. They gave great effort.”
Pinned near their own end zone, the T-Breds went three-and-out and – ironically – returned the ball to the Hornets at the 35-yard line following a punt. Aiken fed the ball to tailback Brayton Sanders, as it had all night. Although he didn't finish with big stats – 17 carries for 52 yards – he capped off the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run, giving Aiken the lead with 4:27 to play.
“He's tough inside, and he's going to run,” Neal said of Sanders. “He's going to be our guy. We're going to live or die with him, and he's going to be a good one for us.”
Aiken's defense, which was solid all night, effectively ended the game on the next series. After holding explosive runners Tancey Richardson (15 carries for 69 yards) and Lee (13 carries, 41 yards) in check for most of the game, they forced a turnover of their own. In a desperate passing situation, South Aiken quarterback Bowen Smith forced a ball to Harold Hilton that was intercepted by Jaylen Smith.
That set off a celebration, one that should last at least two weeks as Aiken has its bye week before returning to action on Sept. 12 at Dreher.
“It's much better coming back after a win,” Neal said with a smile.
West was optimistic looking forward. His T-Breds will play at Midland Valley next Friday.
“This is a learning experience,” West said. “We can't let one loss turn into a streak. We need to get back and get ready for Midland Valley.”
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.
SA 3 0 7 0 – 10
AIK 0 0 0 14 – 14
SA–Owen Myers Field Goal 27.
SA–Malik Lee 1 run (Myers kick good)
AIK–Bryson Jones 51 pass to Antwan Chandler (Jacob Norton kick good)
AIK–Brayton Sanders 2 run (Norton kick good)
SA–Tancey Richardson 15-69, Lee 13-41 1TD, Bowen Smith 6-(-1), D'Najee Whosendove 1-2. TOTALS: 35-111 1TD
AIK–Jones 17-77, Sanders 17-52 1TD, Terrell Lewis 2-12. TOTALS: 36-141 1TD.
SA–Smith 5-12-34 1 INT.
AIK–Jones 6-10-80 1TD.
SA–Richardson 1-16, Harold Hilton 1-7, Whosendove 1-4, Chance Holbrooks 1-4, Owen Griffith 1-3.
AIK–Juwan Brown 4-27, Antawn Chandler 1-51 1TD, Brycen Carolina 1-2.
Staff photo by Mike Adams Brayton Sanders (7) scores the go-ahead touchdown against South Aiken Friday night.×
South Aiken's Tyberius Simmons makes a diving attempt as Bryson Jones looks for open receiver. Staff photo by Mike Adams.×
South Aiken's QB tries to fight of Aike defender during Friday night's cross town rival game. Staff photo by Mike Adams.×
Alex Riddle #15 of Aiken, left, and Brandon Wilson #22 of South Aiken battle for a pass late in Friday night's cross town rival game. Riddle comes up with the interception. Mike Adams photo.×
Aiken Head Coach Neal tries to fire up his team Friday night against South Aiken. Staff photo by Mike Adams.×
South Aiken's Malik Lee looks for running room against Aiken Friday night. Staff photo by Mike Adams.×
D'Najee Whosendove #6 of South Aiken, right, tries to catch a pass as Devantae Gaiters defends. Staff photo by Mike Adams.×