After critical special teams mistakes in the first half, the North Augusta Yellow Jackets were able to right the ship and beat the South Aiken Thoroughbreds 34-24 on Friday night at South Aiken High School.
A botched snap by North Augusta's (6-2, 2-1) punt team put South Aiken (4-3, 2-1) at the 6-yard line in the middle of the second quarter, which allowed Thoroughbreds' running back Trevais Butler to run in for a 10-yard touchdown. North Augusta quarterback Tanner White's touchdown cut the lead to 14-7, but after a botched snap off a punt return turning into a fumble recovery for the Thoroughbreds, South Aiken kicker Ethan Youmans drilled a 30-yard field goal to make the score 17-7 in the second quarter.
Following a 55-yard fumble recovery touchdown by South Aiken's Braden Briatico late in the third to make the score 24-7, White took over. White scored three touchdowns in the second half – two 1-yarders and a 5-yard touchdown. He finished the day with 24 rushes for 139 yards and four rushing touchdowns, while slinging it 12 for 16 for 209 yards.
"It wasn't just me; it was a great offensive effort in the second half," White said after the game. "We made too many mistakes in the first half. We made some mental mistakes. We were moving the ball; we were just stopping ourselves. We kept on shooting ourselves in the foot. We just figured out how to keep it moving."
The Yellow Jackets found a way to keep things moving despite being down 24-20 near the end of the fourth.
Defensive stops led to the Yellow Jackets taking the lead in the final quarter thanks to their wide receiver Lonnie Lee, who, after a catch, scurried in for a 43-yard touchdown with 4:18 left in the game. Lee amassed four receptions for 70 yards. Riding a North Augusta 27-24 lead in the fourth, a late interception by the Yellow Jackets all but sealed the deal. This led to a 5-yard rushing touchdown by White with 2:39 left in the contest.
Yellow Jacket linebacker Caree Collier swarmed the South Aiken offense with 17 tackles, helping his team in shutting the door on South Aiken.
North Augusta head coach Brian Thomas said he was proud his team was able to overcome the self-inflicted mistakes in the first half, cementing the game in the fourth.
"…It was a fantastic football play," Thomas said. "…I just can't be any prouder of these kids."
The interception to seal the game continued a trend stemming from last year. About a year ago the Yellow Jackets decisively won over South Aiken 21-7 in North Augusta.
This, however, was a new game, which favored South Aiken in the first half. After a defensive struggle from both teams in the first quarter, South Aiken quarterback Jesse Sanders scampered in for a 10-yard touchdown with 10:18 left in the second quarter to make the score 7-0.
White connected on a 52-yard pass play, which set up his 4-yard touchdown run with 1:54 left in the second quarter.
Along with North Augusta's mistakes in the first half, South Aiken's Butler gashed the Yellow Jackets with 16 rushes for 154 yards and a touchdown, topping his season average of 70.8 yards a game in 2018.
South Aiken's rushing attack, though, wasn't enough, as the defense couldn't stop North Augusta from ripping a victory away.
The game was considered a close call for the Yellow Jackets. North Augusta's last three wins before the South Aiken win – Airport, Strom Thurmond and Grovetown – have been decided by at least three scores.
While the Yellow Jackets won by 10 points, a 17-point comeback was needed to secure the victory. Thomas, of course, raved of his team's ability to come all the way back from a 24-7 deficit.
"Never die, Never die. It's never over until the whistle blows," Thomas said. "Those guys poured everything they had into it. They found a way; they found a purpose. We just got to find it for four quarters."
Up next for the Yellow Jackets will be Midland Valley at North Augusta High School, while South Aiken will play Airport at Airport High School.