Brian Rivers stood somberly in the north end zone of Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday, trying to muster the words to describe his team’s setback in the state championship.
“They played harder than us,” he said flatly. “We didn’t match their intensity.”
The junior tailback did what he could for Hartsville, at one point pulling the Red Foxes within a touchdown late in the third quarter. But South Pointe used a masterful defensive performance and timely catches to claim a 21-7 triumph in the Class 3A showdown.
“Just a great defense, man,” Hartsville coach Jeff Calabrese said. “We knew they had a great defense coming into the game. … Tonight was their night.”
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The Red Foxes (14-1) saw their wing-T offense fall flat against the stingy Stallions, who pitched a shutout for the first 35 minutes. But South Pointe (12-3) failed to take advantage of ample opportunities to put the game away, and it appeared as though it would bite them when Rivers willed his team to its lone touchdown drive near the end of the third quarter.
“I thought we were going to make a run,” Rivers said. “They were just playing harder than us, and they kept us out of the end zone.”
Hartsville entered averaging 42.2 points per game, thanks in part to a biting ground attack that was good for more than 370 yards per contest. But the Red Foxes finished with 95 yards, led by Rivers’ 77-yard performance, and averaged 2.4 yards per carry. The Stallions packed it inside on the defensive front, and the South Pointe defensive ends maintained the edge as the Hartsville rushing attack failed to get untracked.
“That’s very important against guys like that,” Stallions coach Strait Herron said. “They have a great team.”
The Red Foxes’ offensive shortcomings led to their undoing defensively. Short drives gassed Hartsville against the South Pointe offense, particularly in a second quarter where the Stallions outgained their opponents 147-6 to take control.
South Pointe quarterback Greg Ruff led the charge, hooking up with receiver Quay Brown for a pair of 12-yard touchdown catches to stake the Stallions to a 14-0 halftime advantage.
“We like to throw the ball to him,” Herron said. “He’s going to catch it, and he’s going to make a play. We’re very happy for him.”
Ruff made nifty plays with his feet to evade the Hartsville defenders bearing down on him, including his backfield dance that led to him finding Deshawn Davis for a tightrope catch down the sideline and a 27-yard gain that set up Brown’s second score.
But he saved his best for last. After Hartsville trimmed the South Pointe lead to a touchdown, the junior signal-caller led a decisive nine-play, 63-yard drive, which he capped with a 17-yard scoring toss to Josh Wilkes. The diving grab in the left corner sealed the Stallions’ third title in nine seasons.
“He fits the system really well,” Herron said of Ruff, who threw nine touchdowns and no interceptions in South Pointe’s final two games. “He can throw it well, he can run it well. He can avoid tackles.”
Hartsville, which entered as the top-ranked team in 3A, missed its chance at a second championship in three years. But Calabrese had no qualms afterward.
“Their hard work, their sacrifices have been tremendous all season,” he said. “I’m extremely proud of this team.”