Hartsville survives four turnovers and a tough South Aiken team
By Rob Teal
The playoffs are never easy in Class 4A football in South Carolina. When you turn the ball over four times in a first round playoff game, you will usually see your season come to an end. But the Hartsville Red Foxes will continue on to the second round after getting past the South Aiken Thoroughbreds 28-16 on a frigid Friday night at Kelleytown Stadium.
The game started out just the way you wanted if you are a Hartsville Red Fox fan. The Red Fox defense took the field first and they do what they do best, forced a 3 and out and a South Aiken punt. It was a beautiful punt that rolled all the way down to the Hartsville 2-yard line. The tough field position certainly had an impact on the first Hartsville drive as they almost gave up a safety when Dariyan Pendergrass was tackled behind the line on an end around play. The Red Foxes were forced to punt from the back of their end zone.
The Red Foxes managed to get the punt off under heavy pressure but South Aiken was left with great field position as they started their next drive at the Hartsville 29-yard line. It only took the Thoroughbreds four plays, all rushes, to bulldoze their way into the end zone for an early 7-0 lead.
Hartsville’s offense would respond on their next possession. After hitting on a big screen pass to J’Shawn Anderson that got the ball into the red zone, Red Fox quarterback Owen Taylor ran the ball in from 7 yards out for their first points of the game. It was 7-7 at the end of the first quarter of play.
The Hartsville defense followed that touchdown drive up with forcing the second South Aiken 3 and out of the contest. And after picking up a first down on a nice 15 yard run on the first play of the drive by freshman phenom J’Shawn Anderson, the Red Foxes decided to test the Thoroughbred secondary with a deep pass. It turned out to be a great decision as Owen Taylor threw a perfect 39 yard touchdown pass to senior wideout Tate Hawkins. Chase Elsessor’s PAT was perfect and Hartsville led for the first time in the game 14-7.
The Red Fox touchdown celebration was short lived though. South Aiken dialed up the perfect play call on a third down and long. The Hartsville defense went strong after the Thoroughbred quarterback and he dumped a perfectly timed screen pass to his running back who took the ball 55 yards to pay dirt. The PAT was wide left and Hartsville held on to the lead 14-13.
The Red Foxes didn’t seem to panic on their next drive as they started marching the ball right down the field looking for more points. But a busted screen play in South Aiken territory would turn out to be costly. A Thoroughbred defensive lineman read the play and intercepted the ball before it could get to the Hartsville running back. The big defensive lineman returned the interception 19 yards and into Hartsville territory.
The Red Fox defense would bend a little after the interception but they never broke and South Aiken had to settle for a successful 25 yard field goal. But that did give the Thoroughbreds a 16-14 lead though and thanks to another turnover that killed the next Hartsville drive, it was a lead that South Aiken would take to halftime.
The second half started much like the first half ended. Hartsville got the ball first and drove the ball down the field like they were ready to score points. But J’Shawn Anderson did something that the young star had never done before as a Hartsville Red Fox, he fumbled the football. South Aiken scooped the fumble up and returned it to the Hartsville 44-yard line. But thanks to a forced fumble by Kevon Haigler, the Red Fox offense wasn’t on the sideline too long.
It was a great hit by Haigler that not only gave the ball back to Hartsville but it also appeared to give the momentum back as well. The Hartsville crowd was suddenly on their feet. But as soon as the crowd got going, the turnover bug struck again. This time it was QB Owen Taylor that fumbled the ball and what would’ve been a really nice run by the junior. Instead it was South Aiken ball still leading 16-14 late in the third quarter.
The Thoroughbred offense would pick up a few first downs on the following drive but the Red Fox defense would again get the ball back for their struggling offense. On 4th down and 2 yards to go, Hartsville’s defense flew into the back field and tackled the South Aiken running back well short of the first down. The big fourth down stand proved to be the biggest play of the game as the Red Foxes finally took advantage of their good field position, held on to the football, and drove it down the field for a much needed touchdown. This time it was big Darian McMillan who found the endzone with a touch 3 yard touchdown run. Owen Taylor executed a nice quarterback keeper for a two point conversion. The Red Foxes took a 22-16 lead to the fourth quarter.
The Hartsville defense would dominate the final quarter of play. And the electric Dariyan Pendergrass added the final points of the game on an incredible 53 yard touchdown run as the Hartsville Red Foxes finished off the South Aiken Thoroughbreds for a 28-16 victory.
Hartville finished with 373 total yards. The Shoney’s Offensive Player of the Week is quarterback Owen Taylor. Not only did Taylor throw for 90 yards and touchdown but the junior had the biggest day of his young career rushing the football. He finished with 123 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown.
The Red Fox defense held South Aiken to just 214 yards of total offense. The Shoney’s Defensive Player of the Week goes to Kevon Haigler. Kevon was all over the field as usual and his huge hit forced a big fumble in the third quarter. I’ve yet to leave a game this season where I wasn’t very impressed with the senior linebacker duo of Kevon and Justin Abraham. It’s easy to see why both of these young men are headed to the Shrine Bowl this December.
With the win, Hartsville advances to the second round of the Class 4A lower state playoffs. The Red Foxes will head down to the low country on Friday night to take on the Beaufort Eagles