CHESNEE — Chesnee had the title game in its sights, ready to go to Columbia, but Batesburg-Leesville spoiled the party.
The second-seeded Panthers rallied from a 33-14 halftime deficit and defeated Chesnee in a 34-33 thriller in the 2A Division II Upper State title game on Friday. The Panthers (11-2) advance to play for the championship on Friday. Chesnee, looking for its first state title game appearance, finishes at 11-2.
Batesburg-Leesville’s defense shut out Chesnee’s high-powered offense and ran the ball effectively in the second half to stay on the field. Rickie Fowler led the Panthers with 128 yards on 28 carries.
“That’s pretty much it in the second half,” Chesnee coach Lynn Fleming said. “They did a good job of finding holes, and it just seemed like we were coming up a couple yards short each possession.”
Chesnee led 33-27 late in the fourth quarter when the Panthers began the 95-yard, 19-play game-winning drive that took seven minutes.
Batesburg-Leesville converted two fourth downs on the series, including a back-breaking 25-yard completion from Jacquiel Chandler to Austin Coleman on fourth and nine to the Eagles’ 7. On fourth-and-goal from the one, the Panthers’ Terrance Wilson went over the left side for the touchdown, and the extra point provided the winning margin with 50.5 seconds left.
Chesnee got the ball back with just over 40 seconds remaining and drove to the Panthers’ 37, but Darrius Proctor’s pass in the end zone with 15 seconds remaining was intercepted by Dontavious Morris.
“I’ve coached 43 years, and this team improved more than any team I’ve ever coached,” Batesburg-Leesville coach Jerry Brown said. “This is our 10th win in a row. We got pumped up on defense in the second half and knew we could score. Our defense really responded and we’re going into Columbia with a lot of confidence.”
“The toughest thing is seeing the look on these seniors’ faces,” Fleming said. “With the time that they put in and the kind of men that they are, it’s very emotional. It’s tough, but our guys are resilient. The good Lord has other plans for us, and we’re going to go down that road and find out what those plans are. These seniors we lose are going to be tremendous men in our community, and we’re excited to see what lies ahead for them.”
Proctor and receiver Bobby Foos connected for three first-half scores as the Eagles built their big lead. Proctor had 218 yards passing in the first half, as Chesnee scored touchdowns on all five first-half possessions, but the Panthers defense held him to 29 passing yards in the second half. Foos, a junior, caught nine passes for 176 yards and three touchdowns.
“(Darrius) and these guys have meant so much,” Fleming said. “He and this senior group have raised the expectations here at Chesnee. This is the expectation now, for these guys to be here at this level.”