FLORENCE -- After missing the first football playoff win in school history because of an injury last season, Florence Christian's Alex James said playing in the Eagles' game Friday night was a humbling experience.
But the game couldn't have humbled James much more than he did Thomas Heyward in the Eagles' 53-28 first-round victory.
James made play after play to catapult Florence Christian (10-1) into next week's home game against Northwood Academy, which beat Spartanburg Christian. He turned two quick screen passes in the first half into long touchdowns, had another long touchdown run and returned a third-quarter interception 67 yards for a score, helping the Eagles finally pull away from the pesky Rebels.
"He's a special talent and a great kid," FCS coach Neil Minton said. "As the year went on, he got more and more disciplined. He's such a special talent. Sometimes he can just show up and do stuff. But tonight he got his reads and he made big plays. God blessed him and he's used his talents very well."
Florence Christian scored 26 points in the third quarter, including 23 in the last 4:48 of the period.
"I felt like I made some big plays, but it was all for my team," James said.
And he wasn't the only one. Senior running back Gordon Washington continued his monster year, racking up 225 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 22 carries, pushing him past the 2,000-yard mark for the season.
The Rebels led 6-0 with 7:54 left in the first quarter on Zach Belger's 18-yard run. They stayed with the Eagles despite James's second-quarter heroics. James turned a quick screen into a 58-yard touchdown with 8:25 to go before halftime and did the same on a 65-yard TD with 1:58 left, a play that helped the Eagles to a 20-14 halftime lead.
After Chris White kicked a 30-yard field goal on the Eagles' first possession of the second half, the Rebels pulled to within 23-20 when senior Seth Jones bolted 55 yards for a score with 5:35 left in the third.
But Florence Christian answered quickly when James sprinted 51 yards to make it 31-20 with 4:48 left in the third.
If there was any doubt remaining after Bryce Broach's 1-yard run made it 39-20, James erased it by returning his second interception of the game 67 yards for a touchdown with 12 seconds remaining in the third.
"We knew they would be big and physical and tough on us," Minton said. "We knew they were going to hit us in the mouth and we hadn't been hit in the mouth in a while. And we responded well. We faced the adversity and we responded. That's a good win right there."
Florence Christian outgained the Rebels 511-340.