TEAM SC 23, TEAM GA 20
AUGUSTA — There was never a doubt on the South Carolina sideline Saturday that their Border Bowl win streak would continue.
They had no doubt when they fumbled away their first offensive snap of the game.
They had no doubt when they fell behind 13-7, or when Georgia extended its lead to 20-7 late in the first half.
They had no doubt when they still trailed 20-10 heading into the fourth quarter.
And there was certainly no doubt when they were in victory formation in the final seconds. Team SC scored the game's final 16 points in a 23-20 win at Border Bowl VII, the team's fourth straight in the series for a 5-2 lead overall.
"We knew that South Carolina had won the last three games," said Saluda quarterback Noah Bell, who was named Co-Offensive Player of the Game. "It's kind of a little chip on our shoulder to keep it going. I'm just thankful we got it done today. ... South Carolina high school football's a different breed, now. I knew we had playmakers that could make some plays, and we got it done at the end."
Bell completed 13 of 16 passes for 250 yards and all three of Team SC's touchdowns. Two of those went to Barnwell's Dallyon Creech, the other Co-Offensive Player of the Game. Creech caught 10 passes for 188 yards and the two scores, including the eventual game-winner with 4:10 remaining.
The Bell-to-Creech combo also produced SC's first score of the game. Creech took a screen 60 yards for the score on second-and-26, putting SC ahead 7-6.
"I was just trying to pick them apart," Creech said. "Same thing I did all year – just pick them apart."
Team GA had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead, and their drive was extended when a fourth-down incompletion was flagged for pass interference. That put Team GA across midfield, but they couldn't get within field goal range.
North Augusta's Charles Hammond forced a fumble on fourth-and-20, bringing the offense back out to kneel out the final seconds.
"Patience. We knew we were gonna get the win," said Team SC head coach Brian Thomas, formerly North Augusta's head coach. "That was gonna have a big impact if we needed to kick a field goal. We had some kids step up and make plays. There's no doubt about it. There were several out there, just making plays."
Team SC's final scoring drive started in excellent field position after Barnwell's Deshawn Watson delivered a crushing sack deep in Team GA territory on third and long. Watson was named the Defensive Player of the Game after finishing with seven tackles and two sacks.
The drive started at Team SC's 45 and quickly reached Team GA territory when Batesburg-Leesville's Ke'shoun Williams made an acrobatic catch down the sideline. Bell converted on fourth-and-1 with a sneak to the Team GA 10, then zipped a pass to Creech for the go-ahead score.
Bell found Strom Thurmond's Jay Baker for a 47-yard score in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter to cut Team SC's deficit to 20-17 and give the three-time defending champions a spark.
Team GA turned to its punishing run game to open the game, driving to the Team SC 15 before missing a field goal. The defense forced Barnwell's Craig Pender to fumble on first down, though, and Donovan Anthony hit E'Shawn Mayes for a 21-yard score and a 6-0 lead with 8:54 left in the first quarter.
Bell and Creech answered with their long touchdown, and Team SC led 7-6 heading into the second quarter.
Team GA retook the lead at 13-7 midway through the second quarter on a 6-yard touchdown run by AJ Williams. Simeon Barrow, Jr., a Michigan State signee, blocked a punt to set up Team GA's next drive, which ended in a one-yard score for a 20-7 lead.
South Aiken's James Platte made a 33-yard field goal to make it 20-10 at the half, and that margin carried into the fourth quarter.
Team SC rushed for only 28 yards on 23 carries against a stout Team GA defensive front, but the passing game generated 326 yards. In addition to Bell's MVP performance, Pender went 7-for-9 for 73 yards.
Team GA rushed for 157 yards on 35 carries and completed 12 of 17 passes for 110 yards.