Round 2 Recap
Round two of the 2023 high school football playoffs was not particularly kind to our local teams. We entered with 7 still alive, and finished with a lone wolf. Let’s start with that lone wolf.
Gaffney 24 Clover 12
The Indians hit the road up highway 5 to take on the Clover Blue Eagles and came away with a first – a “scorigami”. According to Gaffney Football History on X, or “the website formerly known as Twitter”, it was the first time a game has ended in a 24-12 final and the 441st unique score in Indian history (which spans 1,214 games).
The first quarter was less than eventful, with a pair of goose eggs on the scoreboard. Gaffney had 2 missed fieldgoals in the opening 12 minutes. The Indians finally broke the deadlock on a 3 yard TD run by Andrew Ruppe with just over 10 minutes to play in the first half. The Blue Eagles had a shot to tie it at 7 late in the half, but fumbled it going into the endzone, resulting in Gaffney taking a 7-0 advantage to the break.
Early in the 3rd quarter, Gaffney found paydirt once more on a long 67 yard strike from Riley Staton to Emazon Littlejohn, upping the ante to 14-0.
It was not until the waning moments of the 3rd quarter that Clover finally broke their goose egg, but would miss the PAT. Gaffney struck back quickly, scoring about 30 seconds later on another long TD pass, this one from Staton to junior wideout Shane Davidson to make it 21-6.
Gaffney would go on to be outscored 6-3 down the stretch, but that plus a couple of late Clover fumbles would be more than enough to propel the Indians into the 2nd round, where they will have to hit the road for a date with the red-hot Dutch Fork Silver Foxes for a rematch of the 2022 5A upperstate championship game, with home field having been decided by virtue of a rule that states if the 2 teams played in the playoffs the previous season, the visiting team from that game will be the home in the current season.
Hillcrest 27 Byrnes 24 (F-Overtime)
These 2 teams met in the first round of the playoffs a year ago with the Rams being heavily favored. It ended the polar opposite way as Byrnes held on for a 31-28 win. Whether or not Hillcrest was coming in with a chip on their shoulder.. Who knows? But one thing was for certain.. With Rams Junior QB Kalab Sutton healthy, a solid running back in senior Thomas Stanley, plus a swiss army knife at Wide Receiver in Avery McFadden, their offense would be a huge test for Byrnes’ defense in all facets.
The tone for this game was going to be set on each of these teams’ first 2 offensive series, which proved this game would end up being a back and forth affair. Hillcrest managed to tick away half of the opening stanza, ticking the play clock down to the literal last second before snapping the ball, but their opening series ultimately ended in a turnover on downs on 4th and 3 at the Byrnes 27. The Rebels took advantage and marched 53 yards to the Rams 20 before being forced to settle for a 37 yard fieldgoal from Jacob Coman to give the Rebels a 3-0 lead with 5:06 to play in the 1st quarter.
The Rams answered well, with a 73 yard drive capped by a 4 yard TD run on 3rd and 1 from Avery McFadden on a direct snap out of the wildcat, giving Hillcrest a 7-3 lead that was short-lived. About a minute later, freshman phenom running back Tre Segarra paused for a split second and juked off a defender after cutting towards the right hash on a handoff, resulting in him flying for a 62 yard TD rush to make it 10-7 in favor of the Rebels.
Hillcrest added a 22 yard field goal with 9:25 to play in the half to tie it, but it was Tre Segarra that had the final blow of the half, stopping on a dime and shedding defenders along the near sideline for a 21 yard TD, making for a 17-10 halftime advantage.
The Rebels deferred after winning the coin toss, so they received the 2nd half kick, and it did not take long for them to strike again. Andrew Stevens hit Armoni Weaver across the middle wide open for a 65 yard catch and run for a TD, giving Byrnes a 2 TD lead. But, that 2 score lead was not at all a comfortable one. The Rebs allowed Hillcrest to hang around, and that was to their detriment down the stretch.
Byrnes had a chance to add on with a 37 yard fieldgoal, but it was blocked and returned by Avery McFadden. A few plays later, Knai Cook came up with a diving tip drill interception that had the potential to set Byrnes up with a game-sealing drive. Ultimately, they went 3 and out after the pick, but flipped the field position game into their favor.
Despite that, Avery McFadden made several big plays over the last 15 or so minutes of the game – a wide open 52 yard TD reception down the sideline, a conversion on a direct snap on 4th and 1, a long reception down to the Byrnes 2 on a long ball over the top, and a game-tying 2 yard TD pass to Josiah Sanders with 9:48 to play in the game.
In the waning minutes of regulation, Byrnes was driving near midfield, but fumbled the ball at the Rams’ 46 yardline, setting up a potential drive for a game-winning fieldgoal. That would not be meant to be as Hillcrest elected to take it to overtime.
Byrnes received the ball 1st in the free period, and would ultimately have to settle for a fieldgoal of around 30 yards. It was blocked, which set the wheels in motion for Hillcrest to walk it off with a 27 yard fieldgoal on 3rd and 10.
Speaking of Hillcrest, their next opponent hinged on this game.
JL Mann 17 Spartanburg 7
The Vikings had been playing their best offense of the season over the last 2 weeks while also coming up with big plays on special teams to accompany their usual stifling defense. But, that stifling defense may have met its match in the 2nd round as they went to Greenville to battle the JL Mann Patriots, who had been surrendering a season average of 15 points per game coming in.
In the end, it was the JL Mann defense that ended up making the difference. Spartanburg’s defense did a phenomenal job as they have all season long, holding QB Ethan Anderson and the Mann offense that was averaging 44 and a half points per game coming in, to just 3 points. In fact, the Pats were actually in the negatives in yards of total offense at the half. Unfortunately, Trey Burke had 2 pick 6s in the first half, and that was the death blow for the Vikes’ season, setting up a rematch between Hillcrest and JL Mann next week in round 3.
Greenville 24 Greer 21
This game was an instant classic between 2 nearby rivals that came down to a last second fieldgoal.
Greenville drew first blood with a 12 play, 66 yard drive that was capped by a 3 yard TD run by Jayvion Sherman.
Greer responded with a 5 play, 72 yard drive of their own, scoring 2 minutes later on a 19 yard TD connection from Chris Hall to Chase Byrd, the first of 14 unanswered by the Jackets.
Greenville also went on a 14-0 run in the 2nd half, spanning the tail end of the 3rd and early 4th quarters. Greer tied it at 21 on a 12 yard TD run by LaDainnian Martin, and had a chance to take the lead late when Chris Hall was intercepted off a tip near midfield.
The Red Raiders were able to drive it to the Greer 17, and kicked a 27 yarder with 4 ticks left in the game to win it.
Martin had 24 carries for 194 yards and a TD as well as 2 receptions for 23 yards and a TD. Chase Byrd hauled in 6 passes for 87 yards and a TD while Brock Diggins had just 45 yards on 3 catches. Chris Hall finished the season going 11-23 passing with 155 yards and 2 TDs with his lone blemish being the pick that led to the game winning drive for Greenville.
Clinton 38 Broome 7
The Centurions had one of the toughest draws in the 3A bracket, having faced a prominent and perennial 3A power in Seneca in round one and then having to follow what was a hard-fought come from behind in the last minute win over them with a road trip to a hostile environment to take on Clinton.
The Red Devils have been very stingy on defense. They gave up an average of right near 18 points per game in their previous 11 this season, with their biggest struggles coming in back to back losses early in the season to Chapman and South Aiken.
Broome, on the flipside, is a team that, if you aren’t aware by now, you have been deeper in the ground than just under a rock, relies heavily on the run game with QB Kamajay Brackett-Brannon and running back Jaylen McGill. Find a way to contain them, and you stand a solid chance of beating them.
Clinton did just that while also doing their thing on offense – running the ball with success. They limited the Centurions, who consistently had between 300-500 yards of total offense each week, and equally consistently logging 300+ yards on the ground, to just 50 rushing yards and 291 yards of total offense. Jaylen McGill had just 17 yards on 10 carries and 2 catches for 6 yards. Brackett-Brannon had 8 rushing attempts (excluding sacks) for 26 yards while going 16-24 for 196 yards and the game’s lone TD for them through the air. Brayden Simpson was the leading receiver with 8 catches for 159 yards and a TD.
Chester 58 Chapman 24
The Panthers also got a tough draw, hosting the Chester Cyclones for the 2nd time in the last 3 years in the 2nd round, this time in Inman. Unfortunately for the Panthers, this meeting had the same result as the last one with the Panthers seeing their season end.
The Cyclones scored on each of their first 2 offensive series of the game, and it took until the 4:04 mark of the 1st quarter for the Panthers to finally get anything going on offense, capping a nice 65 yard drive with a 22 yard scamper by Coleman Gray, which made it a 16-7 game.
Chester answered with another TD drive to re-up the ante to 24-7 before Jackson Visoury booted a 26 yarder to cut the deficit to 2 scores. But, once again, the Panthers saw the gap stretch in the final seconds of the first half when Chester made it a 20 point game going into the halftime break.
Chapman would mount a rally in the 2nd half after falling down 46-10 via an 8 yard TD strike from Gray to RaShawn Cunningham and a halfback pass from Mathai Scott to Colt McPeters that followed a blocked punt by Hank Tolleson. But, it was too little too late as the Cyclones scored the final 7 points of the game on their next series and went on to the win.
On the 2A level, Chesnee had the misfortune of following up their huge playoff win last week with a road trip to take on the juggernaut that is Gray Collegiate Academy. The Eagles kept it close until the midpoint of the 2nd quarter before the War Eagles pulled away in big fashion and shut Chesnee down the rest of the way, in the end cruising to a 62-14 win. KJay Proctor was 9 of 18 passing for 208 yards and a TD with 3 interceptions. He also ran the ball 11 times for a net gain of -19 yards. Austin Bigford had the lone rushing TD for the Eagles, part of a 7 carry, 10 yard game for him, while the leading receiver was Kaylob Blanton with 3 snags for 121 yards and a TD. Adonis Burgess was not far behind with 5 catches for 79 yards