Tom Knotts walked away from Dutch Fork’s 31-20 victory against Lexington on Friday night shaking his head over the way his team continuously struggles to close games. The Silver Foxes built a 31-point halftime lead and played an uninspired second half, but it was enough to hold on for the win.
“We’re trying to not be about just wins,” Knotts said. “We’re trying to play hard and play with attitude and real character, but our second halves are just ugly,” Knotts said. “It’s not a lack of conditioning. Maybe I have them tired, I don’t know. We have to find a way to finish a game, and that is on me.”
Lexington coach Josh Stepp was frustrated that his team’s poor first-half performance resulted in a loss.
“You can’t spot good football teams 17 points (in the first quarter), and that’s what we did,” Stepp said. “Once our kids settled in and dug down, our kids played well. We just have to play well for four quarters. We’re a good football team, we just have to show it for a whole game.”
The Silver Foxes (8-2, 4-0) control their destiny for the Region 5-4A championship. They will win the title outright if they can defeat North Augusta on the road next week. The Wildcats (8-2, 3-1) are in the mix and are hoping for a three-way tie. They must win at White Knoll to have a chance of hosting a home playoff game.
The first half was all about Dutch Fork taking advantage of short fields. The Silver Foxes had 17 points in the opening nine minutes despite being limited to 81 yards of offense.
Jamal Aiken got things started on the opening kickoff when he returned it 67 yards to the Lexington 23-yard line. Seven plays later, Tyler Bass put the Silver Foxes on the board with a 32-yard field goal.
The Wildcats had their best drive of the half on their opening possession, but it ended in a missed 40-yard field goal attempt.
The Lexington defense got a stop on the next series, but the Wildcats muffed the punt at their 21 yard line and Lane Ecton recovered for Dutch Fork. Derek Olenchuk scored on a 3-yard quarterback keeper to increase the lead to 10-0.
DJ Smalls intercepted a pass on the next offensive play to give the Silver Foxes possession at the Lexington 33-yard line. Olenchuk connected with Deion Frasier on a 13-yard scoring pass three plays later and the rout was on.
“The defense did a great job in the first half shutting down a great quarterback and got a bunch of turnovers and we turned them into points,” Knotts said. “We put on a great pass rush, and I thought our inside guys controlled things.”
The short turnovers were too much for the Lexington defense to overcome.
“You can’t spot a good offense that type of field position,” Stepp said.
Matt Colburn, who had his coming-out party last year when he rushed for 400 yards against Lexington, scored on the first play of the second quarter. He later added a 1-yard touchdown run with 1:11 remaining in the half to give Dutch Fork a 31-0 lead.
Colburn finished with 160 yards and two scores on 37 carries. Olenchuk threw for 176 yards and one touchdown on 16-of-24 passing, but the inability to score in the second half was inexcusable to Knotts.
“We never got comfortable in our running game, I was just stubborn enough to keep at it when they had 10 or 11 guys in the box,” Knotts said. “We’re going to have to go back and revamp some things.
Lexington scored on a 1-yard run by Will Hunter and touchdown catches by Jayson Hopper from 24 and 16 yards. Hunter was sacked three times and had to move around in the pocket, but he finished 17-for-36 for 275 yards with the two touchdowns and two interceptions.
“Hunter is a warrior,” Stepp said. “He does it every single day at practice and he does it every Friday night.”
Knotts hopes his team finds a way to finish games with one week remaining before the playoffs.
“We didn’t finish off Dorman, we didn’t finish against Irmo and we didn’t finish here,” Knotts said. “We have to straighten that out.”
DF – Tyler Bass 32 FG 9:16
DF – Derek Olenchuk 3 run (Bass kick) 4:37
DF – Deion Frasier 13 pass from Olenchuk (Bass kick) 3:31
DF – Matt Colburn 11 run (Bass kick) 11:54
DF – Colburn 1 run (Bass kick) 1:11
L – Will Hunter 1 run (Chris Kinsley kick) 5:30
L – Jayson Hopper 24 pass from Hunter (Kinsley kick) 11:05
L – Hopper 16 pass from Hunter (kick failed) 3:50