COLUMBIA — At Benedict’s Charles W. Johnson Stadium on Friday, the Dillon Wildcats claimed the Class 2A Division I championship, defeating Fairfield Central 21-6.
“You can look (at the stands) and see how much it means,” Dillon coach Jackie Hayes said.
The championship was the Wildcats’ first since 2010, before the conference split, and was played to a crowd of 7,100. Dillon fans filled the visitors’ stands.
“Heck of a job by our football team, they just didn’t quit,” Hayes said.
The combined rushing efforts of cousins Joe Blue and Anthony Blue kept the Wildcats rolling, while turnovers stymied the Griffins’ offense in the first half. Dillon owned a 15-point lead at half time, and its defense protected that advantage through a scoreless second half.
“Both of those guys really rose to the occasion,” Hayes said of the pair, who combined for 298 yards.
Though bull-nosed fullback Joe Blue taxed the Griffins’ defense, Fairfield Central would not allow Dillon another trip to the end zone. In the fourth quarter, the Griffins snagged two fumble recoveries shy of the goal line.
But Fairfield Central, looking for its first state championship since 1997, could not establish its passing game or any momentum.
“We just didn’t make the plays we needed to make the plays,” said Griffins coach Demetrius Davis, in his second year coaching at his alma mater.
The Griffins got things going with big gains on their first two plays of the evening, pushing to the Dillon 39, before the Wildcats’ defense tightened. Taking over from there, Dillon pushed to the Griffins’ 24. Facing fourth-and-4, the Wildcats went for it and it paid off big.
Freshman quarterback Avery McCall completed a 23-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass to Ereon Hayes.
Walker Compton had a 21-yard return on the ensuing kickoff to give the Griffins a 59-yard field on their answering drive. Ryheem McDaniel was tripped after a big catch, and when the Wildcats were penalized 15 yards for an illegal block, Fairfield Central’s Damian Bell completed the drive with a juking run.
Griffin defensive back Devonta Foster’s ferocious hits kept popping the ball out of the Wildcats’ hands, and it seemed a matter of time before the Griffins would start grabbing takeaways. Fairfield Central ended up with three fumble recoveries, but was unable to capitalize.
Meanwhile, two interceptions by Dorian Davis helped Dillon extend its lead.
The first began a three-play, 62-yard drive that ended with McCall hitting Page from 33 yards out.
At the end of the period, the Griffins were again intercepted, this time at the goal line, and Davis brought it out to the 27. McCall completed that drive with an 18-yard scoring pass to Page with 29 seconds left in the half.
By converting all three of her kicks on extra points, Dillon’s Tara Grimsley became the first girl to score points in an S.C. High School League state championship game.
The Griffins were disappointed but not disheartened, their coach said.
“This was a good experience for my young guys,” he said. “We’ll be back.”
D: Ereon Hayes 23 pass from Avery McCall (Tara Grimsley kick)
FC: Damian Bell 17 run (kick failed)
D: Anthony Blue 33 pass from McCall (Grimsley kick)
D: Ezra Lighty 18 pass from McCall (Grimsley kick)
Rushing: D: Anthony Blue 24-202, Joe Blue 16-96. F: Damian Bell 19-65, DeAndre Belton 16-68.
Receiving: D: Breon Page 2-40. F: Ryheem McDaniel 2-28.
Passing: D: Avery McCall 12-18-0-128. F: DeAndre Belton 10-22-3-94.