Round 3 Recap
There wasn’t much action for our local teams in the quarterfinals but there were still some great games. We only had 2 teams still alive last night in Gaffney and Spartanburg and the best outcome happened! Both of them will be playing on Black Friday for the upperstate championship at Viking Stadium in what is guaranteed to be a much different game and atmosphere than when they met on week 0 (which feels like it was a decade ago..).
Now that I already let that cat out of the bag, let’s recap how they got there.
Gaffney 16 Northwestern 13 (F/OT)
All season long, there have been some consistencies around these 2 teams. Gaffney’s defense is nasty and they have a couple of Litlejohns on their roster (certainties in life: death, taxes, and Littlejohns playing for Gaffney. Haha). For Northwestern, the story has been their offense, which has been unstoppable since their season opening loss to South Pointe.
The Trojans do have a prolific offense led by QB Will Mattison, wideouts Elijah Caldwell and Gerell Watkins, and running back Turbo (is there a more awesome name for an RB than that? Besides maybe Tank Bigsby at Auburn) Richardson. But, they were going to face their toughest challenge all season yet against the Indians.
The game started off as a defensive slugfest, with both Gaffney and Northwestern forcing 3 and outs and really keeping pressure on the opposing QBs while also limiting the run game. The biggest surprise of the game for me, especially in the 1st half, was just how good Northwestern’s defense looked.
The Trojan defense was easily getting pressure on Gaffney’s Grayson Loftis, mixing their blitzes well and getting in the backfield with ease. At the half, they had limited the Indians to only 73 yards of total offense, and only 9 rushing yards in a shutout. That doesn’t bode well for a Gaffney team that has relied on big run plays from the likes Tyler Smith and Ken Littlejohn all season to open up their offense.
That’s not to say Gaffney couldn’t move the ball at all in the first half. They had success, with 3 consecutive drives that managed to get into plus territory and a couple of big breaks. But every time they did, Loftis would get sacked or the drive would just flat out stall.
Gaffney’s defense also did their thing, but had a few plays where they missed tackles and gave up yards after contact where the Trojans were able to get big gains. One of those plays was Mattison’s/Northwestern’s lone TD of the night — a 20 some odd yard pass down the near sideline to Elijah Caldwell, who made a spectacular running snag in coverage in the front corner of the endzone. That score put the Trojans up 10-0.
In a game like this, you have to take advantage of the breaks you get and the times where things bounce your way. Up until the late 3rd quarter, Gaffney was unable to do that, and it was playing into Northwestern’s advantage. But, the momentum began to swing in the 3rd. Gaffney’s defense tightened up in the 2nd half and tackled much better, while not letting receivers get into open space and pressuring Mattison. But, at the same time the Trojans also made a lot of big mistakes.
Will Mattison threw a pick that set Gaffney up with decent field position despite a personal foul on them after the play. The very next play, Loftis took a deep shot down the sideline and the Trojans got flagged for interference. The drive stalled in the red zone and the Indians had to settle for a fieldgoal try. They made it, but Northwestern roughed the kicker to give the Gaffney O a 2nd chance. They went 3 and out afterwards and still had to settle for a fieldgoal to get on the board with 11 seconds to play in the 3rd.
Gaffney’s defense forced a 3 and out on the Trojans’ ensuing possession after they shot themselves in the foot with a hold on 1st down that happened behind the line. They ended up with a 1st and 25. Then things took an even more disastrous turn as Northwestern’s punter was not ready for the snap and fumbled it. Gaffney got the ball in the red zone with a chance to tie it early in the 4th quarter.
They did tie it 3 plays later as Tyler Smith took a direct snap out of the wildcat 7 yards for the TD.
Both defenses came up with big plays in the rest of the 4th quarter to force OT. Gaffney got a big turnover on downs with about a minute left in the game when Northwestern controversially decided to go for it on 4th and 2 from the Gaffney 25. Grayson Loftis threw a pick a few plays later that set the Trojans up at their own 40. Mattison took a shot that Gaffney deflected in double coverage, and Mattison knee’d it out on the next play to go to overtime.
Gaffney’s defense played their best series all night in the overtime period as Northwestern went 3 and out on a no gain run play, a dropped low screen pass, and an incomplete pass on 3rd down. The Trojans settled for the fieldgoal (and as well as their D had played, why not?) and went up 13-10. Now it was time for the Tyler Smith show.
Smith scored on a sweep on the first play that was called back for a hold. The next play he took a draw down to the 1 yardline. That set up an easy walkoff TD where he took a direct snap from the wildcat and just followed his linemen in.
You could not have asked for a better game than that for the Game of the Week!
Spartanburg 32 Ridge View 29
In all the excitement going on while I was in Rock Hill, it seems like I missed a game that was the polar opposite at Viking Stadium last night.
Coming into this one, Viking fans were confident. They should be. With Raheim Jeter and Tiheem Richardson on your side and a defense with Judah McJimpsey making big plays like he has all year, how could you not be a little cocky?
But what many didn’t realize is that this Ridge View Blazer team is no slouch. They have become one of the more scary teams from around the Columbia area over the last couple of years. They went on the road and won a shootout to upset a good Hillcrest team last week. This game was going to have some fireworks in it unlike the 2 blowouts Spartanburg has had the last 2 weeks. There would be no resting starters in this one.
The 2 traded blows all night. The dynamo duo of Jeter to Richardson was a story again, connecting for 2 TDs. But it was Drek Carter who stepped up to the plate when the Vikings really needed him to. Drek has been a solid back for Spartanburg all season but has been limited/overshadowed of late. But twice in the 4th quarter, with the Vikings trailing, he took the team on his back and scored big TDs to put Spartanburg back on top. Once on an 18 yard TD run and the other on a 20 something yard TD catch and rumble.
Clinging to a 32-29 lead late, Spartanburg had Ridge View pinned deep. They were well behind the sticks around midfield and opted for a hook and ladder play that resulted in a fumble recovered by the Vikes (forced by McJimpsey), who would knee out the clock from there. The Vikings are on to the upperstate championship round for the first time since 2016 when they faced Boiling Springs in an epic showdown.
Let’s hope it will be another epic battle next week at Viking Stadium in front of a raucous crowd as the Indians and Vikings go at it for the right to face either Dutch Fork or Fort Dorchester for the 5A state title!