Lexington didn’t have the season it wanted, but the regular-season finale turned out as sweet as it could be. The Wildcats used a huge first half in cruising past rival White Knoll 50-33 on Senior Night at home.
The win gives Lexington a winning record and a spot in the Class 4A playoffs that begin next Friday.
It also gave the Wildcats wins against the Timberwolves and River Bluff, the two 4A schools they share a district with.
“We wanted to win the region and we wanted to win the district,” Lexington coach Josh Stepp said. “We didn’t win the region, but we won the district, so that is good for our kids. We’re 6-5, 3-2 in the region and have a shot in the playoffs. That’s all you can ask is to have a shot and we’ve got that.”
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White Knoll (8-3, 4-1) had it’s eight-game winning streak snapped. The Timberwolves staked claim to the region championship last week and came out flat in falling behind by 30 points in the first half. They are 3-10 all-time against Lexington but will be one of the top five seeds when the playoff brackets are released by the South Carolina High School League on Saturday morning.
“We kind of reverted back to what we were doing early in the year,” White Knoll coach Dean Howell said .”We didn’t play well, and I had a bad feeling it was going to happen. All week long, I thought we had decent practices, but it as really ho-hum. It was an emotional letdown after winning the region championship last week, but give Lexington credit. They’re a good team.”
Lexington possibly played its best half of the season in the opening 24 minutes. The Wildcats scored on four of six possessions, added a safety and delivered the knockout blow with less than 10 seconds remaining in the half.
White Knoll was driving to get within two scores when Jordan Carr picked off a tipped pass and returned it 86 yards for a touchdown with four seconds remaining in the half.
“I just missed scoring on a kickoff return just before that, so as soon as I got the ball in my hands, I wanted to do everything in my power to get to the end zone,” Carr said. “I got some good blocks and was able to take it all the way.”
Howell thought the play by Carr was key.
“(Carr) is the best player I’ve seen all year and he did a couple of great things that were the difference in the ball game,” Howell said. “Right when he caught that interception, I said he was gone. We didn’t have anybody on the field that could tackle him.
Slade Carroll was the catalyst for a Wildcats offense that rolled up 313 yards of offense in the first half and finished with 353. Carroll had 17 carries for 171 yards in the opening half and finished with 200 yards and four touchdowns on 29 attempts. It was his second consecutive game with 200 or more yards.
Carr got the Wildcats on the board first with a 5-yard run to cap an 13-play, 80-yard drive to open the game.
The teams traded punts before Carroll had a 30-yard run to set up a 1-yard James Ricker touchdown run that gave the Wildcats a 14-0 lead with 1:28 remaining in the first quarter.
Brandon Blake, who started for the injured Donny Baker for the second consecutive week, had his only mistake in the first half on the next series when he threw an interception in the end zone. But even that turned out to be a positive for Lexington when Nick Graves tackled quarterback Calev Grubbs for a safety.
Carr returned the ensuing kick 47 yards to the White Knoll (8-3, 4-1) 2-yard line. Two plays and 36 seconds seconds later, Carroll scored on a 3-yard run to make it 23-0 with 6:08 remaining in the half.
White Knoll had its best drive of the half on the next series and E’Mond Brown scored on a 56-yard run to make it 23-7 with 3:58 remaining in the half. Brown finished with 117 yards and four touchdowns on runs of 56, 4, 5 and 1.
Howell would have been happy to go into the locker room down by 16 points but Lexington added 14 points in the final two minutes to take charge. Carroll added his second touchdown, a 10-yard run, to cap a seven-play, 80 yard drive with 1:58 remaining in the half.
Then Carr added the dagger just before the half.
“We did what we were supposed to do in that first half,” Stepp said. “When we play fast and ahead of the chains and don’t have penalties on offense, we’re pretty good. We executed. I think it proved that we’re a pretty good team when we execute.”
White Knoll scored the first 20 points of the second half on two Brown touchdown runs and a 9-yard score by Gary Shell to pull the Timberwolves within 37-27 with 9:26 remaining.
But Lexington rebounded to score twice in the fourth quarter to put it away.
“We had a lack of execution in that third quarter, and it showed,” Stepp said. “We turned it over, had penalties and we put our defense in some bad positions, but it shows the resiliency of this group and the character and grit they have to bow their necks and play well in the fourth quarter.”
L – Jordan Carr 5 run (Christian Kinsley kick) 6:59
L – James Ricker 1 run (Kinsley kick) 1:28
L – Safety, Nick Graves tackled in end zone 6:44
L – Slade Carroll 3 run (Kinsley kick) 6:08
WK – E’Mond Brown 56 run (Daniel Fulmer kick) 3:58
L – Carr 86 interception return (Kinsley kick) 0:04
WK – E’Mond Brown 4 run (Fulmer kick) 3:13
WK – Gary Shell 9 run (Fulmer kick) 0:34
WK – Brown 5 run (pass failed) 9:26
L – Carroll 11 run (Kinsley kick) 5:58
L – Carroll 1 run (kick blocked) 2:55
WK – Brown 1 run (pass failed) 0:32
WK – E’Mond Brown 18-117, Gary Shell 10-49, Ray Ray Jones 3-12, Calev Grubbs 12-26. L – Slade Carroll 29-200, Jordan Carr 4-20, James Ricker 6-11, Brandon Blake 1-4.
WK – Grubbs 14-28-1-172. L – Blake 13-17-1-129
WK – Eddie Prestigiacomo 7-77, Bruce Wilkinson 3-35, Shell 2-34, Jason Rumph 2-26. L – Dalton Abrams 5-49, Daquan Wells 3-26, Tyler Schadewald 3-23, Jayson Hopper 2-31.