STROM THURMOND 42, SOUTH AIKEN 27
JOHNSTON — Strom Thurmond head football coach Antwaun Hillary saw the memory of Week 0 start creeping into his players' heads Friday night against South Aiken.
Far removed from the comfort of a 21-point halftime lead, the Rebels found themselves locked in an intense duel with the T-Breds – and Hillary felt the team's controversial loss to Saluda in the season opener looming over them.
Friday night, the Rebels delivered the key response each time to ensure there would be no repeat of Week 0 and moved to 2-1.
Jequan Harris' 79-yard touchdown pass to Jay Baker was one of those responses – it came immediately after the T-Breds scored on back-to-back drives to make it 28-21 with 2:20 left in the third quarter.
The other was a long fourth quarter scoring drive – fueled by big runs by Harris and Stanley Hill – that ended with a 27-yard Hill touchdown run and pushed the lead back to double digits at 42-27 with 3:20 to go.
"Just really proud of my guys. They played an unbelievable game. We had to fight that one out for four quarters," said Hillary following the 42-27 victory. "That memory – we're human – that memory of Week 0's game came into our head. I really challenged the guys to just make sure we finish. That's part of our plan to win. We did that, man.
"I cannot be more proud of my kids. That's a good South Aiken football team that's hungry for a win, and they're gonna put it together eventually. Coach (Chris) Hamilton does a great job over there."
South Aiken threatened to score in the final moments of the fourth quarter but ultimately ran out of time. The loss dropped the T-Breds to 0-3, and Hamilton said after the game his team didn't play a physical first half and didn't start fighting back until they had already fallen behind big.
"They were physical and fast and nasty in the first half, and they smacked us in the mouth," he said. "We didn't respond very well. We didn't execute plays. That's how the first half went. Second half, we decided we wanted to execute plays and actually do what our assignments are and do what we're supposed to do. It's amazing what you get.
"My kids got a lot of fight in them. If they'll just keep fighting, keep playing, then good things will eventually happen for us. We've just got to build off of this. Losing's not acceptable in our program. It's not something that we are OK with."
Harris had 207 rushing yards and a touchdown, plus the long passing score to Baker. His 80-yard touchdown run gave the Rebels a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter.
Hill rushed for 128 yards and three touchdowns, including two in the second quarter to give the Rebels that 28-7 lead.
South Aiken responded in a big way in the second half, scoring on its first two drives in the second half. Trevais Butler scored from the 4-yard line on fourth-and-goal with 8:37 left in the third quarter, then Jesse Sanders powered in from the 1 and got the two-point conversion to cap a 67-yard drive with 2:20 left in the quarter.
Hill was stopped for a gain of 1 on the first play of the ensuing possession, then Baker got behind the South Aiken defense for a perfectly-thrown touchdown pass from Harris.
Still, South Aiken wouldn't go away. The T-Breds faced a fourth-and-14 at the Rebels' 33 with 7:17 left when they dialed up some trickery – Jonathan Burns took a handoff and sprinted to the right edge, where he lofted a touchdown pass to Devionne Burnett to make it a one-score game once again.
The Rebels responded one last time, with a 20-yard Harris run moving them across midfield to set up Hill's third score of the game.
The T-Breds fought hard to get back into the game in the second half, but ultimately the Rebels made the plays they had to make in order to prevent a comeback.
"Just proud of how my defense played. The only that that mattered – my defensive coordinator got a little mad about the points, but I told him the only thing that matters is the W," Hillary said. "We made stops when we had to. We got first downs when we had to. That's all I care about."
E.J. Hickson passed for 228 yards despite facing constant pressure from Strom Thurmond's defensive line, and Nequel Ryans rushed for 61 tough yards. Butler rushed for two touchdowns, and Burns was the T-Breds' leading receiver with 65 yards.
"(Hickson) is a good football player, man. I can't say that enough. The kid was really hard to stop, has amazing scramble ability," said Hillary. "BJ (Williams) and my other defensive linemen did a tremendous job trying to keep him bottled up – I think BJ had four sacks. Just a great job by him and the rest of the defense. Just proud of those guys, again."
Next up for the Rebels is a road game next Friday against Midland Valley. South Aiken hosts Lexington in the Aiken Standard Game of the Week.