Fueled by the excitement of the program’s first state title bid, the Hillcrest Rams toppled defending champion Dutch Fork, 47-17, in the Class 4A, Division 1 title game at Williams-Brice on Saturday.
The Rams were down 10 after the first quarter, and trailed 17-6 in the second. But with the program’s first state championship on the line, Hillcrest coach Greg Porter said his players believed if they could get in front, they could win.
“We just wanted to take advantage of the opportunities that the defense was creating for us. They were working hard all night,” Porter said.
With some athletes playing both ways, Porter said his main concern was that the Rams not get fatigued before they could seize momentum, and the lead.
Two Hillcrest touchdowns in 64 seconds of second-quarter play put the Rams on track to victory.
“Words can’t even express how big this is, not only for our program, our community, but for Greenville County football,” Porter said.
“Tonight, we were able to overcome a lot of stereotypes, to make teams say that you can win a state championship, but you’re going to have to work,” Porter said.
The Rams (14-1) had won one playoff game before this season.
Dutch Fork (12-3), appearing in its third consecutive title game, was out of sorts for most of the game.
“Guys didn’t really take (Hillcrest) seriously until it was too late,” Knotts said.
“It’s just an embarrassing performance on our part,” Knotts said. “You’re only as good as your last game, and this is our last game, so, right now, we’re pretty bad.”
The Silver Foxes went into the half trailing by 2, and Hillcrest came out of halftime firing. The Rams used two minutes and five plays to cover 80 yards on the opening drive of the second half.
Collin Sneed’s 23-yard scoring pass to Grant Lawter put the Silver Foxes down by 9 points. And then came the 45-yard punt return touchdown, with Brian Spurgeon finding room to run outside the right hash.
With quarterback Tate Fant out because of a concussion, and running back Matt Colburn hounded by the Rams defense, the Silver Foxes could not get going.
Dutch Fork had not had its usual strong start, either.
Its second drive of the night, begun at the Hillcrest 30 after the Rams were forced to punt from their own end zone, went nowhere. The Silver Foxes had advanced one yard after three minutes and six plays. Tyler Bass redeemed the drive with a 47-yard field goal – his 18th of the season and a tie for his season best – that curled just over the cross bar as the small Silver Fox crowd erupted in cheers.
When Hillcrest was stuck with a third-and-4 from its 26, Dominique Benson stepped in to grab his seventh interception of the season, and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown. With 4:16 left in the first period, the Silver Foxes went up 10-0.
On the first play of the second quarter, Collin Sneed connected with Brian Spurgeon for a 79-yard touchdown pass to put the Rams on the board. But the point-after kick was blocked.
Hillcrest’s next drive started at the Dutch Fork 41, but a fumble on the second play from scrimmage, forced by senior linebacker Lane Ecton, gave Dutch Fork another chance. A 27-yard pass from Fant to Collin Jones put the Silver Foxes in Hillcrest territory. On the next play, Stephen Davis, Jr. found a lane around the left end and rolled into the end zone from 45 yards out.
JD Ballenger responded for the Rams with a 67-yard scoring rush, but the two-point pass failed, leaving Hillcrest five points down.
So when Marco Westfield pulled down an interception – the seventh from Fant all season – and returned it 48 yards to score, Hillcrest took a tenuous 19-17 lead. It was the first time Dutch Fork had trailed in a championship game since 2012, when the Silver Foxes never led.
Dutch Fork was scoreless in the second half.
The Rams rendered Shrine Bowl back Colburn ineffectual. He was limited to six yards on six carries in the first quarter and finished with 75 yards on 22 carries after putting up 36 yards in the fourth. Dutch Fork finished with 184 yards of offense, compared to Hillcrest’s 415. Ballenger was the game’s leading rusher with 89 yards and two touchdowns, and Sneed posted 206 passing yards to lead the game.
1st: (D) Tyler Bass 47 field goal
1st: (D) Dominique Benson 23 interception return (Bass kick)
2nd: (H) Brian Spurgeon 79 pass from Collin Sneed (kick blocked)
2nd: (D) Stephen Davis 45 run (Bass kick)
2nd: (H) J.D. Ballenger 67 run (pass failed)
2nd: (H) Marco Westfield 48 interception return (alec Morton kick)
3rd: (H) Grant Lawter 23 pass from Sneed (Marshall Perkins kick)
3rd: (H) Spurgeon 45 punt return (Perkins kick)
3rd: (H) Ballenger 3 run (Perkins kick)
4th: (H) Thomas Sullivan 9 run (Perkins kick)