Antwaun Hillary walked to a limping Tyrece Nick after the game, hugged him and offered a pat on the helmet to congratulate his gusty quarterback.
Nick gutted out a strong effort on a hurt ankle and his defense backed him as Strom Thurmond beat Batesburg-Leesville 23-20 in a crucial region showdown Friday night.
The win put the Rebels in the driver’s seat for the Region 2-AA title with one game left. They’ll face Ninety Six in the regular-season finale Oct. 30 with a chance to clinch.
“It means a lot for our football program, just to have a chance, the next game,” Hillary said. “We can’t worry about anything we’ve done in the past. All we can worry about is next week, and we have a chance for next week.”
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Nick returned after missing last week’s loss to Saluda with a high ankle sprain, and he went 17-for-26 for 233 yards and a touchdown while adding 71 rushing yards. The junior threw two interceptions but kept Batesburg-Leesville’s defense honest when the Panthers focused on the run.
“My team trusts me and I trust them,” Nick said. “It’s big for this school to get back on track and continue being dominant in our region and our state.”
Chad Gilchrist added 112 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and Deandre Ryan had eight catches for 118 yards while adding 51 rushing yards.
The two teams swapped first-quarter touchdowns between a Gilchrist 6-yard run and Terrence Wilson 68-yard run. Lawson Reel kicked a 20-yard field goal as time expired for a 10-7 Rebel halftime lead.
Each team scored early in the third quarter, including an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Wilson. Gilchrist punched it in from a yard out late in the third for a 23-14 lead.
Batesburg-Leesville (7-2, 2-2) scored early in the fourth on a Wilson 1-yard run to cut the deficit to three, but Strom Thurmond (8-1, 3-1) used two long drives to eat clock, including one late in the game that ran it down to seconds remaining to seal the win.
Wilson totaled 107 rushing yards and all three touchdowns for the Panthers, but two came on long bursts as the Rebels limited his impact otherwise.
HOW THEY SCORED
ST–Chad Gilchrist 6 run (Lawson Reel kick), 1:29
BL–Terrence Wilson 68 run (Alex Caughman kick), 1:13
ST–Reel 20 field goal, 0:04
ST–Deandre Ryan 21 pass from Tyrece Nick (Reel kick), 9:22
BL–Wilson 85 kickoff return (Caughman kick), 9:10
ST–Gilchrist 1 run (kick failed), 1:46
BL–Wilson 1 run (kick failed), 10:37
RUSHING–Strom Thurmond: Chad Gilchrist 21-112, Tyrece Nick 18-71, Deandre Ryan 9-51, Jaquan Edwards 5-29. Batesburg-Leesville: Terrence Wilson 16-107, Mike Smith 9-31, Marcus West 2-(-1).
PASSING–Strom Thurmond: Nick 17-26-2 233. Batesburg-Leesville: Smith 5-8-1 39, Bishop Cannon 0-2-1, Wilson 0-1.
RECEIVING–Strom Thurmond: Ryan 8-118, Tyrek Williams 2-60, Rashad Bryant 4-35, Gilchrist 3-20. Batesburg-Leesville: Anthony Williams 3-14, West 1-15, Montez Merritt 1-10.