Quarterback Jac’Quiel Chandler’s 2-yard scoring keeper with 3:25 remaining put Batesburg-Leesville ahead, and Terrance Wilson’s two-point rush around left end helped seal the Panthers’ 28-24 victory against Silver Bluff in the Class 2A Division II championship game Friday at Benedict’s Charlie W. Johnson Stadium.
On the Bulldogs’ final drive, the Panthers’ defense came through, securing Batesburg-Leesville’s first state title since 2005.
“Our defense is much improved, but you just don’t know,” Panthers coach Jerry Brown said. “We tackled poorly at times, but in the end I felt we tackled well in that fourth quarter.”
On its final possession, Silver Bluff drove from its 35 to the Batesburg-Leesville 8 with 19 seconds to go.
“It was exciting wasn’t it, to have a chance to win the championship on one throw?,” Silver Bluff coach Al Lown said. “We didn’t make it, but I’m proud of my kids.”
Dontavious Morris intercepted Silver Bluff’s final pass in the end zone with 1.6 seconds left.
“I knew if I didn’t make the play, the receiver would have caught it,” Morris said.
Two seasons ago, the Panthers were 1-10. Morris never imagined that by his junior year, he would be standing on the field, watching his team hoist a championship trophy.
“It feels like, ‘Oh my God.’ That’s the feeling. It still hasn’t hit me yet,” he said.
“I’m so excited to see these kids have a great time like this,” said Brown.
It was the 63-year-old’s fifth title with his third program.
“You realize at my age, it don’t last forever. This why I came back into coaching, to help them. … It’s just fun to see another school rejuvenated.”
Brown’s Panthers held a 20-6 lead midway through the second quarter, but Silver Bluff’s running game — and two touchdowns — brought the Bulldogs back.
The Bulldogs were trailing 20-12 and backed up to their 8-yard line early in their first possession of the second half. But their dogged running game came through, and on third-and-6 from their 37, the Bulldogs got 43 yards off a Jaylen Lawrence scramble. Three plays later, Shaquez Wright broke the plane from 6 yards out to get the Bulldogs within 2, but the Panthers’ Axavier Small intercepted the two-point pass attempt to preserve the lead.
Silver Bluff’s next drive went 75 yards and ended with a lunging keeper at the goal line that put the Bulldogs in front, 24-20, for the first time since the first quarter.
The Panthers got the ball back with less than nine minutes to play.
They reached the Silver Bluff 21with 5:42 to go.
“I told them, stay behind me and I’ll stay behind you,” Chandler said. “It was kind of iffy, but eventually, we had the feeling something was going to happen, and that’s what happened.”
The Bulldogs had drawn first blood, with RJ Stallings hammering away at the Panther defense and Wright completing the 60-yard drive with a 4-yard burst that put Silver Bluff ahead 6-0 with 1:16 left in the first period.
The Panthers picked up momentum from there.
Iguavian Tolen rattled off 75 yards to set the Panthers up with first-and-goal from five yards out. On the first play of the second quarter, Chandler faked the handoff to Rickie Smith, then ran the keeper up the middle for the score. With Alex Caughman’s extra point, the Panthers held a 7-6 lead.
When the Bulldogs were charged a 15-yard penalty for roughing the kicker, Brown’s team capitalized with an onside-kick that set the Panthers up with another possession and a 40-yard field.
On the next play from scrimmage, Chandler faked the reverse and pitched to Wilson, who spun his way to the Silver Bluff 10. The Bulldogs bit on another fake on the next play, giving Chandler a clear path into the end zone for a 13-6 Panther lead after 40 seconds of second-quarter play.
The Panthers offense posted four first downs on their next possession and Smith added to the Panthers’ advantage with a rush up the middle from 9 yards out to cap the eight-play, 66-yard scoring drive.
Stallings’ 20-yard return on the ensuing kickoff gave Silver Bluff good field position for its next attack. The drive started at the Bulldogs’ 39.
Silver Bluff worked its way to the Panthers 20, and went for it on fourth-and-long from there.
Wright caught a 20-yard screen pass over the middle to score, but the Panthers succeeded in blocking the extra point.
Wright was the game’s leading rusher with 103 yards. For Batesburg-Leesville, Wilson finished with 99 rushing yards on 11 carries, and a two-point run. Rickie Smith had 21 carries for 69 yards.
S—Shaquez Wright 4 run (kick failed)
B—Jacquiel Chandler 2 run (Alex Caughman kick)
B—Chandler 10 run (kick failed)
B—Rickie Smith 9 run (Caughman kick)
S—Wright 20 pass from Jaylen Lawrence (kick blocked)
S—Wright 6 run (pass intercepted)
S—Lawrence 1 run (pass failed)
B—Chandler 2 run (Terrance Wilson run)