Silver Bluff Bulldogs advance to state title game with win over Bamberg-Ehrhardt in OT
SILVER BLUFF 14, BAMBERG-EHRHARDT 7
PETTICOAT JUNCTION — It’s been 12 years since a Silver Bluff High School football team has advanced to the state championship game. For most programs, that isn’t too long of a span between title game appearances. For the Bulldogs, who have won five state championships, it has been a long wait that’s been exaggerated by perennial playoff runs that often look like they could result in a trip to Columbia, but have fallen just short in recent years.
Silver Bluff was able to wipe away any bitter taste Friday, when it came out on top of Bamberg-Ehrhardt in a defensive struggle in the Class AA, Division II Lower State championship game. Playing at The Bluff, the Bulldogs won 14-7 in overtime, punching their ticket for their first trip to the state championship game since 2001.
“It’s indescribable. I’m so happy,” senior linebacker and offensive lineman James Jacks said after he was part of a swarming defense that stifled the Red Raiders all night, including a last-gasp attempt on fourth-and-goal from the 2-yard line, gang tackling quarterback Sumner Cooler to end the game and set off an ecstatic celebration. “We’ve been working on this for three years, it’s a dream come true.”
It’s been even longer for some of Jacks’ teammates who have played for the varsity since they were freshmen. Senior Jalen Douse is one of them, and he helped secure the long-awaited championship-game trip with three interceptions of Cooler.
Douse was often matched up with the Red Raiders’ Shrine Bowl tight end and South Carolina commitment Kevin “KC” Crosby. Not only did he help limit the big and athletic target to three catches for 26 yards, but he protected the end zone with all three of his picks coming inside his 20-yard line.
“I knew I can’t do individually,” a smiling Douse said of the team effort that limited B-E to 193 yards of total offense from scrimmage. “(Going to the state championship game) is something I’ve been trying to do for four years. Now, it just happened.”
The sweet victory got an extra boost of saccharine because of the competitive nature of the game. The Bulldogs (12-1) came into the game on an 11-game winning streak, where they’ve dominated almost every single opponent. The formula has been to build a large early lead and run away with a lopsided victory.
That wasn’t the case Friday against Bamberg-Ehrhardt, one of the teams Silver Bluff previously whipped when the Region 5-AA rivals played in October – a 28-7 win for the Bulldogs. In the return engagement, the Red Raiders (7-6) played just as tough on defense as their hosts. They were more of a bend-but-don’t-break unit, making big stops in several critical situations.
“The defense played a (tremendous) game,” Kevin Crosby, Red Raiders’ head coach and father of their star player, said of his squad which forced Silver Bluff to turn the ball over on downs twice in the red zone – once inside the 5. “It was a hard-fought game, we just came up short. We hung in with a good Silver Bluff team.”
Longtime Bulldogs head coach Al Lown echoed Crosby’s sentiments, saying, “it was a tough, hard-fought win. Nobody deserved to lose but this was a great win for our team.”
It was also a milestone victory for Lown, who recorded the 200th victory of his career when his defense made the final stop. The dramatic scenario was set up by Silver Bluff getting the ball first in overtime, and quickly converting on their possession which started at the 10-yard line.
Shaquez Wright only needed two carries to power his way into the end zone, finding it on his second 2-yard touchdown run of the night. In addition to the two scores, Wright had 20 carries for a game-best 114 yards. That was just slightly better than teammate RJ Stallings’ 10-carry, 113-yard performance, as they worked the ball inside as well as around the edges on jet sweeps from the Bulldogs’ Wing-T attack.
Wright’s second touchdown gave his squad a 14-7 lead, and the Red Raiders four cracks at evening the score. On first down, Tyrell Wilson – playing in place of injured starter RaQuan Brown – blasted up the middle for 6 yards. Wilson looked as though he might have found the end zone on second down, but the officials ruled his forward progressed was stopped at the 2, by what appeared to all 11 Bulldog defenders.
They didn’t let Wilson get any closer on his third-down run, stopping him for no gain and setting up the critical play.
“They ran that dive the previous play and we stuffed it,” said Jacks, who added he expected a different play on fourth down, like the one Sumner scored on from a yard out in the second quarter to tie the game. “I thought they’d try a quarterback keeper. I saw him cut back and was able to slow him down,” described Jacks, who helped stifle Sumner’s momentum before his teammates drove him to the ground. “Our defense pursues the ball so well. So many people stepped up. It was a total team effort.”
“We just bowed up and played with toughness,” said star two-way lineman Gyasi Yeldell. “The coaches put us in the right position.”
The head coach didn’t see most of the action on the last play, but he witnessed what counted.
“All I saw was him go down,” Lown said from his vantage point on the sideline. “It was a physical, old-school game.”
Lown’s defense was tremendous. Even when the Red Raiders had a short-field opportunities, the Bulldogs usually stepped up. They shut down the Red Raiders’ running game, limiting Wilson to 36 yards on 18 carries and Cooler to 35 on a dozen runs. They were just as tough against the pass, harassing Cooler into a rough night. He completed just 6 of 20 attempts for 109 yards, but did surrender the three interceptions.
Joining Jacks, Yeldell and Douse with a big performance on defense was Jaylen Lawrence. Formerly an All-Aiken Standard first team defensive back, Lawrence has seen very limited time in the secondary this season as he’s taken over the quarterback position. While he didn’t do much passing the ball, he was tremendous defending B-E attempts, providing blanket coverage on several deep attempts.
“We tell these kids that they’re Silver Bluff football players,” Lown explained of calling his quarterback into extra duty. “They’ve got to play all over the field.”
They’ll get one more chance to show how versatile and talented they are next Friday. That’s when Silver Bluff will take on Batesburg-Leesville for the state championship.
The game will be played at Benedict College in Columbia and kickoff is set for 5:30 p.m. In spite of the jubilant celebrations following the overtime win, the Bulldogs were still focused on the final goal.
“I look forward to the challenge,” Yeldell said. “It’s where we want to be and we want to finish it off.”
“The way this team’s fighting,” Jacks said, “anything is possible.”
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.
BE 0 7 0 0 0 – 7
SB 0 7 0 0 7 – 14
SB–Shaquez Wright 2 run (Nick Casares kick good) 9:29.
BE–Sumner Cooler 1 run (Tav Schwarting kick good) 6:15.
SB–Wright 2 run (Casares kick good).
BE–Tyrell Wilson 18-36, Sumner Cooler 12-35 1TD, Keyshawn Orr 4-13. TOTALS: 34-84 1TD.
SB–Shaquez Wright 20-114 2TDs, RJ Stallings 10-113, DeAngilo Drayton 3-23, Myles Corbitt 5-15, Jaylen Lawrence 3-10. TOTALS: 41-275 2TDs.
BE–Sumner Cooler 6-20-109 3 INTs.
SB–Jaylen Lawrence 4-6-(-4).
BE–Garrett Zeigler 3-83, Kevin Crosby 3-26.
SB–McKenzie Wilson 1-0, Shaquez Wright 3-(-4).
SB–Jaylen Douse 3-8.