North Augusta Jackets rally for region crown
NORTH AUGUSTA 33, DUTCH FORK, 24
NORTH AUGUSTA — After the first play of the game, it didn't look like it was going to be North Augusta's night. North Augusta's Willie McCloud fumbled the opening kickoff and it was recovered by Dutch Fork deep in Yellow Jacket territory in the de facto Region 5-AAAA title game between the high school football powers.
The mistake led to a quick score and set the stage for a good first half for the Silver Foxes, who looked like they would win back-to-back region crowns by defeating the Jackets in the regular-season finale in consecutive seasons. But an inspired defensive performance led to a second-half renaissance as North Augusta rallied for a 33-24 win that made it the Region 5-AAAA champion and will let it return to the Jackets Nest next week for the start of the playoffs.
“Pretty speechless. Unbelievable, unbelievable for the kids and the community. This is great,” said North Augusta head coach Dan Pippin, whose team rallied from a 11-point deficit after the third quarter and shut out Dutch Fork in the second half. “Made a bunch of mistakes in the first half. The kids just not quitting and playing through it. Defense held us in the game, that's a great football team we just played. For us to do that is a big deal.”
The Yellow Jackets (10-1, 4-1) dug themselves and early hole, which got worse when Dutch Fork (8-3, 4-1) quarterback Derek Olenchuk led his team on an 89-yard drive on its second possession, finishing with a touchdown pass to tight end Austin Ruger. The drive started at the 11 after North Augusta turned the ball over on downs when it failed to convert on fourth down.
“At the beginning of the game we tried to do too much,” Pippin said. “That's what we do at North Augusta, we try too hard.”
The effort finally paid off late in the first quarter. After getting the ball on their 46, the Yellow Jackets moved down the field in five plays for a critical score. When quarterback Trib Reece hit Dre Dunbar with a 28-yard touchdown pass it got North Augusta on the scoreboard, prevented Dutch Fork from gaining a sense of invincibility and got the team and crowd back in the game.
While the Silver Foxes added to their lead with a 26-yard field goal off the booming leg of Tyler Bass, the Jackets capitalized on another short field. On his first carry of the game, Dutch Fork's star running back Matt Colburn fumbled the ball which was quickly recovered by Kyle Saverance at the Silver Foxes 49. Capitalizing on momentum, they Yellow Jackets used a trick play, a flea flicker from Reece to Keyon West that pulled them within four points.
But the momentum was short lived. After forcing the Silver Foxes to go three-and-out on their next possession, Reece was picked off by Braylin Williams at the North Augusta 39. Taking advantage of another short field opportunity, Dutch Fork scored when Olenchuk hit KJ Williams from 7-yards out. That put the visitors ahead 24-13 at the half, when Pippin laid everything out for his team, saying he challenged them.
“In the first half they battled hard and came out strong,” said North Augusta defensive lineman Brandon Maddox, who has played this entire season with a torn ACL. “At halftime, we gathered our thoughts and knew what we wanted. We made a couple mistakes but we came out with more will. We had the will to win.”
That was apparent by a resurgent defensive effort. After getting pushed around by Dutch Fork's big offensive line, the Yellow Jackets stood their and even took some away. Maddox had one of the team's four sacks against a Dutch Fork squad that had allowed only six the entire season.
“They were physical, we needed to be able to play in the second half,” Pippin said. “We thought they were going to get tired, we thought our conditioning would take over and it did.”
The offense couldn't capitalize in a scoreless third quarter, as it looked like North Augusta was running out of time. The sense of urgency was clear on the sideline on the very first play of the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-2 from their 39, the Jackets lined up in punt formation. But Ronald Williams, the up man, intercepted the snap and powered his way up the middle for three yards. That play propelled the Jackets, who drove the remaining 58 yards in nine plays with Williams finishing the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.
A 2-point conversion pass from Reece to Dunbar got them within three points.
The defense stood tall and drove Dutch Fork backwards on the next series. North Augusta got the ball again on its 41 with 7:50 to play and put together an 11-play drive that included four first down conversions before Reece connected with West again on a 9-yard touchdown. The play that set that up was a sensational catch and carry by Jaleel Bryant for 14 yards on third-and-10.
“Jaleel Bryant made the catch of my career down by the goal line,” Pippin said. “That was incredible.”
The defense responded with a four-and out, giving the ball back to the offense on Dutch Fork's 37. Williams only needed three carries to provide insurance points and the final score in the region-clinching win.
“We never give up,” said Reece who went 21-for-32 for 292 yards and three touchdowns, completing nine passes to Dunbar for 134 yards and six to West for 110 yards. “We stay in the game the whole game.”
Both Reece and Maddox said that winning the region was one of North Augusta's main objectives since the season started. Now that they've accomplished it, they struggled to explain their emotions, beyond beaming smiles.
“Words can't describe it,” Maddox said.
“It means everything,” said Reece.
Their head coach, who was showered with water, had a tear in his eye as he soaked in the moment. He also pointed out what winning the region will mean.
“Playing at home is a big advantage for us,” Pippin said. “This is a great place. You can't ask for some place better than North Augusta right now.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.
DF 14 10 0 0 – 24
NA 7 6 0 20 – 33
DF–Walter Roberson 3 run (Tyler Bass kick good) 11:19.
DF–Derek Olenchuk 4 pass to Austin Ruger (Bass kick good) 5:32.
NA–Trib Reece pass 28 Dre Dunbar (Blake Busby kick good) 1:31.
DF–Bass 26 Field Goal 9:10.
NA–Reece 49 pass to Keyon West (Busby kick blocked) 5:56.
DF–Olenchuk 7 pass to KJ Williams (Bass kick good) 2:09.
NA–Ronald Williams 2 run (Reece to Dunbar 2-point conversion) 8:57.
NA–Reece 9 pass to West (Busby kick no good) 4:25.
NA–Williams 4 run (Busby kick blocked) 1:47.
DF–Walter Roberson 12-88 1TD, Matt Colburn 11-37, KJ Williams 2-9, Derek Olenchuk 9-7, Deion Frasier 1-2, Daniel Jurgensen 1-1.
NA–Ronald Williams 6-39 2TD, Willie McCloud 9-35, Dashawn Barnes 9-15, Trib Reece 5-2.
DF–Derek Olenchuk 18-35-179 2TD.
NA–Trib Reece 21-32-292 3TD, 1INT.
DF–KJ Williams 5-66 1TD, Julian Heyward 3-47, Austin Ruger 3-27 1TD, Deion Frasier 3-21, Walter Roberson 4-18.
NA–Dre Dunbar 9-134 1TD, Keyon West 6-110 2TD, Jaeel Bryant 3-21, Antaun Andrews 1-15, Willie McCloud 2-12.
DF–Braylin Williams 1-0.