Ryan Day had quite a night, and as a result the Thomas Heyward Academy football team gets to play at least one more time under the lights in the South Carolina Independent School Athletic Association playoffs.
Slightly stunned and perhaps caught a bit off guard by a hot start by an Upstate upstart, the Thomas Heyward football team turned to its do-everything senior running back to restore order and successfully launch its 2012 playoff run with a 49-13 victory over visiting Oakbrook Prep on Friday night in Ridgeland.
In an amazing offensive and special teams display, Day scored five times on the ground, threw a 20-yard touchdown pass and added a pair of two-point conversions just for good measure to help turn a 13-6 second-quarter deficit into a runaway triumph over the Knights, who closed an impressive inaugural SCISAA season on a sour note.
"Ryan was terrific tonight," said Rebels coach Nic Shuford. "He's been doing that for four or five weeks in a row."
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True, Day has been a consistent Rebel performer, but Friday night seemed different, if not special. In fact, the three-sport star had a hand in every Rebel touchdown save for one and added three punt returns of more than 40 yards to set up scores each time.
While it was a career performance for Day, who has now rushed for more than 200 yards in five straight games, the experienced senior pointed praise elsewhere.
"I definitely got into a groove, but the offensive line really had things going tonight. They made it easy for me," Day said. "Once they got going, it was easy for me to make plays."
As things got easier for Day they got increasingly difficult for Oakbrook, which brought only 19 players to its first playoff game. After the fast start that saw touchdowns on its first two drives, including a 30-yard scamper by junior Reggie Stoddard, the Knights managed just a handful of first downs the rest of the way and suffered a pair of costly turnovers that turned the tide to the Rebels.
"Our guys came out fast and played hard the whole game," said Knights head coach Matt Graves. "But it's a numbers game. We wore down in the second half. But we haven't let that be an excuse for us all year and we won't use it tonight either."
As the Knights faded midway through the second quarter, the experienced Rebels turned up the heat, scoring on five straight possessions.
Those drives featured two Day touchdown runs of longer than 30 yards and a 20-yard halfback option pass to Forest Richardson with six seconds left in the first half that turned a six-point deficit into a 22-13 halftime lead. That advantage was padded in the third quarter by back-to-back 30- and 26-yard Day touchdown runs and an 8-yard Jared Rountree scamper to put the game safely away before the fourth quarter even began.
Day added a 10-yard touchdown run in the final quarter to close the scoring and put the exclamation point on an exciting Rebel evening. In addition, Day had two other short first-half touchdown runs of 7 and 4 yards.
"We really rode Ryan tonight, but I like the way we are playing as a team," said Shuford, whose team has now won three straight games since a loss to Hilton Head Christian, its only blemish of the season. "I feel like we are playing our best football at the right time. Now it's time to get back to work and get ready for next week."
Shuford's squad will tussle with talented Thomas Sumter Academy, who will host the Rebels after squeaking by Northwood Academy, 28-27.
To win and set up a potential rematch with Hilton Head Christian, the Rebels will need a more solid start and the type of stellar combination of running the ball on offense and stuffing it on defense as it had Friday.
"These guys know what we need to do to play for a state title," Shuford said. "It's going to get tougher from here."
Thomas Heyward 49, Oakbrook Prep 13
OAK -- 13 0 0 0 -- 13
THA -- 6 16 20 7 -- 49
OAK -- Reggie Stoddard 30 run (kick failed)
THA -- Ryan Day 7 run (conversion failed)
OAK -- Curtis Reed 1 run (Tanner Eggers kick)
THA -- Day 4 run. (Day Conversion).
THA -- Forest Richardson 20 pass from Day (Day conversion)
THA -- Day 30 run (conversion failed).
THA -- Day 26 run (conversion failed)
TH -- Jared Rountree 8 run (Hayden Daley run)
THA -- Day 10 run (Jason Quick kick)