MIDLAND VALLEY 20, AIKEN 10
Kenneth Freeman deferred to his players following Friday night's win over Aiken, his first victory as Midland Valley's head football coach.
It's a landmark win for him, sure, but those players had been waiting even longer to get back in the win column. A victory over A.C. Flora on Oct. 13, 2017 was followed by 18 consecutive defeats leading up to Friday's matchup between two winless teams.
One streak was going to end, while another would continue.
The Mustangs' long wait finally ended with a 20-10 win that was a long time coming for them. The Hornets, however, will have to wait at least one more week to snap their skid, which is now 10 games dating back to last year's win over Midland Valley.
"Man, it feels good. It had been a long time since we won a game," said senior wide receiver BJ Staley, who took a screen pass 71 yards for a touchdown and ended the night with 93 receiving yards. "Last week, we had a chance to win one, but we came up short. This week will give our guys some confidence going into next week against Brookland-Cayce."
Last week was a tough one for Midland Valley (1-5, 1-1 Region 5-AAAA), which was beaten at the buzzer by an Airport field goal. This time out, though, the Mustangs had an answer any time it seemed like Aiken was starting to find something that worked.
"Off that loss, it really hurt, and I think we came in Monday and I think it just made us want it even more," said Midland Valley senior quarterback Harper Puckett, who went 13 of 15 passing for 222 yards and a touchdown. "It feels great. It's the first win since 2017. Awesome feeling."
An Aiken (0-7, 0-2) mistake set up Midland Valley's first touchdown. A high snap on a punt attempt was downed at Aiken's 2-yard line, and Puckett plowed in for the score for a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
The Hornets got into field goal range on their next drive, which started at the Midland Valley 32 following a long kickoff return by Ferderian Terry. But Midland Valley's Jahmal Jackson blocked the kick, keeping Aiken scoreless.
The Mustangs returned the favor a few minutes later, snapping the ball out of the end zone for a safety to put Aiken on the scoreboard with 10:50 left in the half.
Aiken looked to be in great shape after Terry downed a punt at the Midland Valley 1, but Puckett hit Charlie Bussey for 19 yards and some breathing room. A couple plays later, Staley took a screen and outran everyone for a 71-yard score and a 14-2 lead with 5:22 left in the half.
There was no score in the third quarter, but Antavious Lawton and the Aiken offense started to move the football. Lawton ended the game with 106 rushing yards on 16 carries, many of those coming after being flushed out of the pocket by Midland Valley pass rushers. He also completed 12 of 20 passes for 80 yards.
The Hornets started the fourth quarter with a third down at the Midland Valley 8, but they turned it over on the 5.
A'Jani Mainer pounced on a Lawton fumble on Aiken's next drive, and then Walter Baker took the first-down handoff 76 yards for the dagger.
Midland Valley led 21-2 with just 3:34 to go, but Aiken put one final drive together. Lawton's 24-yard touchdown pass to Reginald Corley made it 20-10.
The Mustangs host Brookland-Cayce, which moved to 2-0 in Region 5-AAAA play with a win over South Aiken, next week in the Aiken Standard Game of the Week. Aiken hosts Airport, the league's other 2-0 team following Friday's last-second win over North Augusta.