By KYLE DAWSON
JOHNSTON — Strom Thurmond had momentum early in Friday’s Class AA, Division I second-round playoff matchup against visiting Newberry. The Rebels had a large home crowd behind them and a 14-6 lead midway through the second quarter. Then Yafari Werts showed everyone how quickly he can change the complexion of a game.
Werts, Newberry’s star quarterback, piloted the Bulldogs to 35 unanswered points and a commanding 41-14 lead after three quarters. And he did it in spectacular fashion, scoring three touchdowns of 50 yards or more in the third quarter alone. In all, he accounted for 352 yards – 242 rushing and 110 passing – and four touchdowns in the Bulldogs’ 51-28 victory.
“I thought we played hard. We just gave up too many big plays,” said Strom Thurmond head coach Antwaun Hillary, adding that he counted up a handful of third-and-long situations where the Bulldogs converted.
“That’s what ended up being our Achilles heel. We’ve never given up 50 points in a playoff game, I think, in the history of our program. You’re not going to win giving up 50 points. Obviously we didn’t play our best on offense, either, but we’re not going to beat that team 52-51.”
Those big plays, runs for big chunks of yardage by Werts and Amir Abrams, kept drives alive and allowed Newberry (10-2) to keep putting points on the board. By doing so, the Bulldogs were able to force Strom Thurmond (10-2) out of their normal offensive game plan and into a more pass-heavy strategy. Rebels quarterback Tyrece Nick was efficient, completing 18 of 19 passes for 162 yards and two touchdowns, but Newberry was able to limit many of Strom Thurmond’s screen passes to minimal gains. And when the Rebels gave the ball back to the Newberry offense, Werts made sure to make them pay for it.
“He’s a football player. That’s why he’s a Georgia Southern commit,” Hillary said. “He showed that tonight, just making play after play. His speed was very, very good – probably the fastest quarterback we’ve seen this year. He makes them go, and I don’t see them getting beat with him behind the center.”
Abrams gave Newberry the halftime lead with a pair of touchdown runs, including a 2-yarder with just 32 seconds to go. He ended the game with 207 rushing yards and three touchdowns, and the Bulldogs rushed for a total of 478 yards and six scores. Strom Thurmond entered the fourth facing a massive 27-point deficit, but the Rebels fought for a pair of touchdowns in the final frame.
“The guys had a tremendous year, man. I’m just proud of them,” Hillary said. “They never quit; we kept scoring. Even at the end, we kept scoring. Nobody ever hung their head, so I’m just proud of that more than anything.”
Kyle Dawson covers sports for the Aiken Standard. Follow him on Twitter @ItsKyleDawson.
Newberry 6 14 21 10 51
Strom Thurmond 7 7 0 14 28
N — Yafari Werts 9 run (conversion failed) 3:07
ST — Tyrece Nick 29 pass to DeAndre’ Ryan (Lawson Reel kick) 1:57
ST — Sanchez Singleton 3 run (Reel kick) 7:45
N — Amir Abrams 16 run (Werts pass to Zy Towns) 5:12
N — Abrams 2 run (kick failed) 0:32
N — Werts 53 pass to Towns (kick good) 8:30
N — Werts 57 run (kick good) 5:34
N — Werts 56 run (kick good) 2:52
ST — Jalen Simpkins 3 run (Reel kick) 11:53
N — 23 yard field goal 7:07
N — Abrams 5 run
ST — Nick 61 pass to Rashad Bryant (Reel kick) 2:01
N — Yafari Werts 17-242-3, Amir Abrams 23-207-3, Chris Wadsworth 8-29. Totals 48-478-6.
ST — Chad Gilchrist 12-76, Tyrece Nick 17-72, Sanchez Singleton 5-31-1, Jalen Simpkins 1-3-1. Totals 35-182-2.
N — Yafari Werts 5-10-110-1-0.
ST — Tyrece Nick 18-19-162-2-0.
N — Zy Towns 4-80-1, Kaleb Rosemond 1-30.
ST — Rashad Bryant 5-72-1, DeAndre’ Ryan 7-55-1, Tyrek Williams 1-28, Tannor Byrd 2-10, Chad Gilchrist 3-(-3). Totals 18-162-2.