The Scott Earley Era began like nobody thought it would.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the Chapin student section was chanting, "Earley! Earley! Earley!"
The nearly capacity crowd on the home side was standing and cheering as the Eagles pulled off a stunning 28-21 victory against Strom Thurmond in the season opener for both schools.
Earley was greeted with well-wishers after the game with the sentiment, 'I thought they said it couldn't be done here."
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The first test was a success but Earley doesn't want his team to lose focus on the bigger goal.
"We play that team in Week 10, we might get beat by 40," Earley said. "But playing in Week 0, neither team was ready. We got more breaks than they did and that turned out to be the difference. We can't come away from this with false confidence, though. We have to get right back to work."
The first-year coach left defending Class 3A champion Myrtle Beach to take over a team that struggled to a 4-6 record last year. But none of that mattered as the Eagles took down the Rebels, the second-ranked team in Class 2A.
A big-play third quarter was the difference. Trailing 14-7 at the half, Jalen Pauling returned the second-half kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown to tie the score.
On the Eagles' second possession of the quarter, Victor Frick took a short pass from Michael Weimer and outraced the Strom Thurmond defenders for a 75-yard score.
On the Rebels' next possession, Chapin blocked a punt. Pauling scooped it at the 13 yard line and scored untouched.
"We won four games last year at Myrtle Beach because of special teams," Earley said. "That is our No. 1 focus in practice, and we felt like we had an advantage, and it paid off for us."
Chapin struggled offensively, but Frick had six catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns. He scored the Eagles' first touchdown on a screen play that turned into a 49-yard score.
The beginning was shaky for Earley and the Eagles.
After holding the Rebels to three-and-out on their first series, Chapin took over with good field position at their own 39 yard line. Three plays later, Marcelis Thompson intercepted a Michael Weimer pass and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown.
Weimer rebounded quickly and capped a five-play, 62-yard drive with the 49-yard catch-and-run to Frick.
"We played pretty good defensively but gave up the two special teams plays, and they turned a couple of short passes into long scores," Strom Thurmond coach Lee Sawyer said.
Strom Thurmond had eight total yards in the first quarter before getting on track in the second.
Behind the running of sophomore quarterback Raleigh Yeldell, the Rebels went 70 yards in eight plays. Yeldell accounted for 50 yards on the drive, but Nick Williamson scored from a yard out to make it 14-7 with 8:05 remaining before the half.
The Rebels had a chance to increase the lead but fumbled inside the Chapin 5-yard line with under four minutes remaining in the half. The Eagles ran out the clock to go into the half only a score behind.
"We really had a chance to put them in a hole right before the half but that fumble turned out to be costly," Sawyer said. "We had mistakes on both sides of the ball and you can't make those types of miscues and expect to win any week."
First Downs 10 6
Rushes-yds 40-221 25-66
Passing yds 63 182
Comp-Att-Int 8-16-0 10-18-1
Punts 5-27.6 2-41
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties 11-106 6-51
ST 7 7 0 7 - 21
C 7 0 21 0 - 28
ST - Marcelis Thompson 47 interception return (Sam Northrop kick) 9:45
C - Victor Frick 49 pass from Michael Weimer (Colden King kick) 7:42
ST - Nick Williamson 1 run (Northrop kick) 8:05
C - Jalen Pauling 88 kickoff return (King kick) 11:46
C - Frick 75 pass from Weimer (King kick) 5:30
C - Pauling 13 blocked punt return (King kick) 3:02
ST - Raleigh Yeldell 66 run (Northrop kick) 7:43
LEADING INDIVIDUAL STATS
Rushing: ST - Nick Williamson 11-42, Raleigh Yeldell 16-128, Chris Blocker 9-33;C - Robbie Howard 11-24, Victor Frick 7-38, Joe Rister 102, Hunter Bickley 4-6..
Passing: ST - Yeldell 8-16-0-63; C - Michael Weimer 10-18-1-182.
Receiving: ST - Jamell Jackson 2-16, Davis Desmond 3-21, Williamson 1-16, D. Smith 1-5, Brian Mitchell 1-5; C - Frick 6-130, Conner Lowder 1-11, Howard 1-5, Matthew Hood-Pittenger 2-39.