Let these numbers sink in for a moment — Sumter finished with 16 yards of offense on 29 offensive plays against Dutch Fork in the Class 4A Division I state championship game Saturday night at Williams-Brice Stadium.
This was not a regular-season game. This came with a championship on the line. And it was done by a defense that for most of the season struggled to keep people out of the end zone. But on the grandest stage, they never allowed the Gamecocks a break, and the result was a dominating 54-14 victory to give the school it’s first football state championship.
“That is unheard of, especially against those athletes Sumter has,” Dutch Fork coach Tom Knotts said when told of the 16 yards of offense. “They can really run and are fast, so to hold them to 16 yards is unbelievable.”
The foreshadowing of the performance came on the first two offensive plays for Sumter. Dominique Scott recovered a fumble at the Gamecocks 29-yard line on the first play. Two plays later, Daniel Jurgensen caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Derek Olenchuk and the rout was on.
Scott came up big on the next Sumter play as well. He forced a fumble that was recovered by D.J. Smalls at the 19-yard line. Three plays later, Austin Ruger fell on a Matt Colburn fumble in the end zone to make it 14-0 a little more than three minutes into the contest.
“Those fumbles got us hyped,” Scott said. “That gave us momentum, and they couldn’t keep up with us.”
Defensive coordinator Brian Thompson pointed to those early fumbles as setting the tone for the game.
“That was huge,” Thompson said. “You couldn’t dream up a better scenario in which to start off the game. The offense punched those two fumbles in, and we just needed to keep focus from that point forward.”
This was a defense that started the playoffs allowing 350 yards and nearly 25 points per game. But they seemed to get better each and in the postseason.
The final regular-season game against North Augusta could have been a turning point. They Silver Foxes suffered a fourth-quarter lapse and allowed the Yellow Jackets to storm back for a 33-24 victory.
That seemed to eat away at the defense.
“Our goal was to win every game and be here,” Thompson said. “But I think a blessing in disguise might be North Augusta. We blew some assignments and the kids saw they had to trust us and trust your teammate, and if we did that, we could be a very good football team. We changed some mental aspects of the game and they responded tremendously.”
Scott, a junior linebacker, said it was time for the defense to make a statement.
“Everybody bought into the system,” Scott said. “We were getting tired of people blaming the defense for losses, so we had to come back strong. We practiced hard, took it seriously and, once the playoffs started, we played our best football.”
The Silver Foxes limited the powerful Spring Valley and Byrnes offenses to well below their averages and saved the best for last. Sumter had scored 100 points in three playoff games and had playmakers all over the field but never got on track. The Gamecocks finished with four first downs and two of those come as the result of defensive penalties on Dutch Fork. The Gamecocks crossed midfield twice and never threatened to score offensively.
“We played really well defensively,” Knotts said. “I have been saying all year, on paper, we have a heck of a defense. I don’t know what happened during the year, because we didn’t always show it, but during the playoffs, we played tremendous football on defense.”