Aiken's Brayton Sanders hobbled off his home field, having just turned in one of the marquee performances of his young career. The sophomore running back battled through injuries to rush for 52 yards and scored the game's deciding touchdown in Aiken's 14-10 victory over rival South Aiken Friday night at Hagood Stadium.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak to the T-Breds and an eight-game skid overall dating back to last season; the Hornets' last win was a 20-7 victory on Sept. 20, 2013, over Richland Northeast. A 23-6 loss to South Aiken capped a dismal 2013 season for the Hornets, and South Aiken looked for much of Friday night to be primed to make it a third straight win over its crosstown rival.
Sanders and the Hornet offense had few opportunities to get anything going in the first half, possessing the ball for just 11 plays compared to 33 for South Aiken.
Trailing 10-0 after the third quarter, the Hornets broke through for a pair of touchdowns in the fourth, stunning a South Aiken team that seemed to be comfortably ahead despite the small margin.
Aiken's first score, a 51-yard touchdown pass from Bryson Jones to Antawn Chandler, gave the Hornets life. Sanders's 2-yard touchdown run gave them the win.
“Everybody was hyped; everybody got loud,” Sanders said of the Aiken sideline after the Hornets finally connected on big plays in the fourth quarter.
The win over the T-Breds is the first in the careers of many young Hornets like Sanders, including second-year head coach Brian Neal.
“Obviously, it's a big deal for us, and we'll take it,” Neal said.
Critical penalties killed Aiken in its 17-10 Week Zero loss to Strom Thurmond; this time, the Hornets benefited from late South Aiken miscues that allowed them to emerge victorious.
Aiken's go-ahead scoring drive was aided by a personal foul call for a late hit on Sanders, moving the ball down to South Aiken's 14. Sanders found pay dirt four plays later, putting the Hornets ahead for good.
South Aiken appeared to be poised for a comeback, but multiple penalties on a long gainer moved the ball from Hornet territory back to the T-Breds' 33. Jaylen Smith intercepted Bowen Smith's next pass, all but sealing the deal for Aiken.
“Getting this W, I think, will bring some merit to what we're trying to teach them,” said Neal.
The Hornets now find themselves in unfamiliar territory, preparing for their next opponent after a victory. Aiken has a bye next week and will square off with Dreher on Sept. 12.
“It's much better to come off a win with 10 days' break than it is after a loss,” Neal said.