SALUDA 39, BARNWELL 14
COLUMBIA — The Warhorses' ultimate shot at redemption in the Class AA state championship game quickly turned into a deja vu moment at Charles W. Johnson stadium on Friday.
Barnwell found itself down two scores less than five minutes into the game and never really found its footing from there in a 39-14 loss to Saluda.
It was the second loss in the title game in as many years for Barnwell.
"We just didn't make enough plays," Barnwell head coach Dwayne Garrick said. "We've got a good football team. I'm proud of our kids. They're good players, but on this day in that two-hour window, we didn't make enough plays."
On the other side, Saluda made a lot of big plays. The Tigers rolled to 523 yards of total offense.
Noah Bell accounted for four touchdowns and 372 yards through the air and another 98 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Dallan Wright finished off his season with a four-touchdown performance and 171 receiving yards.
It didn't matter what the Warhorses' defense did either. They tried rolling down and playing man coverage. They tried playing zone over the top. The end result was the same: Wright would get open and Bell would find him.
"Our quarterback's a warrior," Saluda head coach Stewart Young said. "Wingate is going to be very fortunate to probably get him."
Bell started the scoring on the ground with a 2-yard run. For the other three first half scores, he connected with Wright.
The first was a 68-yard toss. The two hooked up on touchdowns of 10 yards and 16 yards also. The 16-yard strike with 50 seconds left in the first half made it a three-score game headed into halftime.
The early offensive onslaught by the Tigers also meant the Warhorses could never go to the wishbone like they wanted to at some point. Barnwell did have a shot at cutting into the deficit on the final play of the first half, but a sack quelled any would-be momentum.
"When you get behind on the scoreboard, you're always doing a few things you really don't want to do," Garrick said. "The game changes if we could've gotten it back close and got in the wishbone. That's what we really would've liked to have done."
The Warhorses were without leading rusher Jamari Chisolm in the first half. Garrick turned to Chisolm, who had been hampered by an injury all week, in the second half when he broke a couple of key runs on the opening drive, which was capped by a 10-yard touchdown run by Craig Pender.
While Chisolm's absence did change some aspects of the game, Garrick downplayed its impact on the outcome.
"He was limping all week, and you can tell it was real tough on him," Garrick said. "He got out there in the second half and moved on it a little better than I thought he was going to. Jamari might've made a difference, but he wouldn't have made a 39-14 difference."
That momentum from the opening drive was was short-lived as Bell dialed up a pass to Zaye Brown, which he took 80 yards for a score. Wright's fourth touchdown reception closed out the scoring for the night.
Barnwell was held to 124 yards on the ground and 155 yards through the air. TJ Miller and Pender were responsible for the Warhorses' touchdowns. Senior linebacker DeShawn Watson was again a bright spot for the Warhorses. Watson made 14 total tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks.
Watson was a part of a senior class that Garrick said has been special.
"I'm couldn't be more proud of them," Garrick said. "This game obviously didn't turn out the way we wanted it to turn out, but when you toe it up, somebody's going to win and somebody's going to lose."
It was a historic victory for the winners, who planned to celebrate in such fashion.
"It means everything," Young said. "We're going to have a party tonight like we ain't never had before in Saluda. I'm so proud. It's the first time since integration that anybody in this county has got a ring, and they're getting one now."