High School Sports

Hardeeville's run ends with loss to Scott's Branch, 36-20

SUMMERTON -- It wasn't a bad night for a Little League team on steroids.

The Scott's Branch defense ate their Wheaties before the Class 1-A Division II Lower State championship game against Hardeeville as well.

Whether he meant to or not, Hardeeville head coach Blake Raley irked the Scott's Branch football team by calling the Eagles' Hammer offense a "Little League team on steroids" earlier in the week. The Eagles set out to punish the Hurricanes with 285 yards on 50 carries as they advanced to their third-straight state championship game with a 36-20 win Friday at Spann Stadium.

Scott's Branch (11-2) will play Williston-Elko, a 27-21 winner over Christ Church, for the third straight year next Friday at Benedict College's Charlie W. Johnson Stadium in Columbia. The Eagles won in 2008 and the Blue Devils took home the crown last year.

"That's what the Hammer does," said Scott's Branch head coach Leonard Johnson. "It just wears the other team down and keeps their offense off the field. We're happy with what we're doing."

Hardeeville entered the game averaging nearly 300 yards rushing on the ground, but finished with just 19 yards on 29 carries. In fact, without Charlie Morrison-Ford's 57-yard touchdown run on the Hurricanes' last play of the night, Hardeeville would have finished deep in a hole.

"That's great," said Johnson. "The defense did well tonight. (Defensive coordinator) Ben (Gibson) does a good job with them. We wanted to take away their running game and we knew they were kind of predictable on the run. We forced them to put the ball in the air, which is not their strong point.

"The guys knew what they were going to do," he added. "We just had to come downhill instead of waiting. We attacked more tonight than in the past."

Hardeeville, in the program's fourth year, finishes with a 7-6 mark.

"It was a great season," Raley said. "We got to a place where no one expected us to get.

"We took some great strides over the last four years with this group of seniors," he added. "I'm very proud of them. It's disappointing that this was their last game, and they fell just short of the state title game. It's more disappointing that this was our last game together."

The game got off to a hectic start, as Scott's Branch bobbled the opening snap of the game and Hardeeville's Amar Wilkins picked up the loose ball and rumbled 30 yards for a touchdown. The conversion run failed, but the 'Canes led 6-0 just 18 seconds into the game.

The Eagles responded with a 10-play, 58-yard drive after Traven Parker returned the ensuing kickoff 45 yards to Hardeeville's 42-yard line. Parker ended the drive with a 2-yard run to tie it at 6-6 with 7:51 left.

Hardeeville lost 8 yards on five carries in the first quarter, while Scott's Branch ran 17 times for 88 yards. Leon Mathis made it 14-6 with a 3-yard run and a two-point conversion with 33 seconds left in the opening quarter.

The Hurricanes finally got some kind of offense going in the second quarter, but had to go to the air to do it. Michael Kinlaw caught a 20-yard tipped pass on third down and Jarrell Knighton caught a 16-yard pass off another tip for a touchdown with 7:23 left in the half to make it 14-12, but again the conversion failed.

"We practiced hard all week," said Scott's Branch defensive captain Everett Rendell. "At the beginning, we came off slow. For us seniors, it was our last game here, so we had to tighten up on 'D.' We did better than we expected.

"Well, no actually, we wanted zero points on the board," he added.

The Eagles went back to work and put together an 11-play, 65-yard drive that Parker ended with an 8-yard run. Mathis' conversion run made it 22-12 with 2:31 left in the half.

The teams traded possessions to open the second half until Scott's Branch quarterback Jerrell Adams found a wide open RayQuan Georgia for a 20-yard touchdown pass -- the first pass of the game for the Eagles -- to put the home team up 28-12 with 2:19 left in the third.

Parker made it 36-12 with a 9-yard TD catch from Adams with 5:23 left in the game.