Epic rally sends Hartsville to Lower State title game
By Rob Teal
Seven weeks ago the Hartsville Red Foxes were 3-3 after two straight road losses to Abbeville and Myrtle Beach. They weren’t close losses either. In both of those defeats it felt like the games were over before halftime. Losing is not something that Red Fox Nation is used to seeing from their football teams. Getting dominated is almost unheard of around these parts. After the Myrtle Beach loss, the people outside of the football team conceded the fact that this was indeed going to be the “rebuilding year” that the experts predicted. I mean Hartsville did lose 41 players from last year’s team who had reached the Lower State championship three years in a row, winning two of them.
I guess the players and coaches didn’t get the memo telling them that they had no chance to make a title run this season because seven straight victories later, the last three coming in the difficult 4A state playoffs, Hartsville is heading to Myrtle Beach for the 4A Lower State championship game with a trip to Williams Brice Stadium on the line.
This week’s game recap will not be that long because all of the Red Fox scoring and highlights happened in the second half, specifically the last 7:37 of the fourth quarter. I will attempt to capture some of the excitement that transpired at Brookland-Cayce High School Stadium on Friday night in the “instant classic” third round playoff game.
The Brookland-Cayce Bearcats entered the playoffs as a team that many thought had a real shot at reaching the state championship this year. And through the first two rounds, it appeared they were indeed on their way. So I don’t think any Red Fox fans should be ashamed of the fact that when the first half was over and the Bearcats led 14-0, we thought we were about to watch the final two quarters of the 2019 season.
Hartsville opened the second half with a great drive that lasted almost nine minutes. But the momentum that the Red Foxes appeared to gain as they went down the field was immediately returned to BC when the Red Foxes turned the ball over on downs deep in Bearcat territory. With just a few minutes remaining in the third quarter Coach Calabrese’s squad failed to score points and BC took over the ball still up 14-0.
Defense has been Hartsville’s strength all season. And during this amazing seven game winning streak, it’s been the defense that’s come up with the big plays that have turned things around. This game would be no different. In what would end up being the turning point in the game, Keshawn Dolford sacked the BC quarterback and knocked the ball out of his hands. Senior defensive lineman, Amir Coe, recovered the ball at the Bearcat 4-yard line. The Red Foxes finally got points on the board on the very next play when quarterback Owen Taylor punched it in from four yards out.
And even though BC would respond with a big play of their own, a 71-yard touchdown run by their extremely fast running back, you just got the sense that the Hartsville players were not going to be denied.
On the following possession, quarterback Owen Taylor began to put on a show for the jam packed stadium. He showed incredible poise converting two key 4th down conversions, the second one for a Red Fox touchdown that cut the Bearcat lead to 21-13. The extra point attempt became very interesting after three penalties forced Calabrese to call on his long-distance kicker, Leland Saxton to attempt a 35-yard PAT. Saxton was up for the challenge. The beautiful kick split the uprights and it was 21-14 Bearcats.
After Hartsville made a huge stop that forced a BC punt, the offense took the field with 3:48 showing on the clock.
The 3:48 would prove to be more than enough time for Owen Taylor & Co. The junior signal caller had already scored two touchdowns in the second half, the second of those was set up by a 39-yard pass to freshman wideout Kayne Herring (first catch of his career), and he took the field with tons of confidence. So it was no surprise when he didn’t seem to be phased in the least as his unit faced a 3rd and 8 from their own 75 yard line. He executed a perfectly designed screen pass to freshman phenom J’Shawn Anderson. Anderson broke two tackles and out ran the Bearcat secondary for a 75-yard touchdown.
Coach Calabrese called a timeout immediately after the touchdown that cut the BC lead to 21-20 with 2:19 seconds left in the game. Knowing that his team had all the momentum, Calabrese didn’t hesitate when he decided they would go for the two point conversion to take the lead instead of the PAT to tie it. He once again turned to Owen Taylor and OT delivered. It was a QB-keeper off the right side and it didn’t seem to fool the Bearcat defense. They looked like they knew it was coming but they still couldn’t stop Taylor from getting the football into the endzone.
After a valiant effort from the Bearcat offense on the final possession, the game ended and the Hartsville Red Foxes were victorious 22-21. It was an epic comeback in a game that will be remembered for ages.
The Shoney’s Offensive Player of the Week is quarterback Owen Taylor. Taylor’s stats were decent, 188 passing yards and 16 yards rushing. But it was his composure and heroic effort that earned him this week’s honor. The Shoney’s Defensive Player of the Week is athlete Keyshawn Dolford. The junior plays all over the field for the Red Fox defense and has made big plays all season. None of those plays were as big as his third quater sack in this game that forced the BC quarterback to fumble the ball. Hartsville recovered the fumble at the Bearcat 4-yard line and they scored their first points on the very next play. Congratulations to both of these young men.
Next up for the Red Foxes is another road trip. They will head down to Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium in Myrtle Beach this Friday for a rematch of last year’s Lower State championship game. After losing a convincing game to the Seahawks earlier this season, I would say that I expect this incredible and unforeseeable run to come to an end. But if I’ve learned anything from following this year’s team, it’s to NEVER count them out.