Three quick Keenan scores proved to be the knockout punch at Bolden Stadium on Friday night.
The Raiders scored three touchdowns against Ninety Six in the space of two minutes to ice a 46-28 victory and capture the Class 2A Division II Upper State championship.
It’s the first Upper State title in the history of the school.
“It’s unbelievable,” said wide receiver Kendrick Gathers, who caught three touchdown passes. “I have great teammates, great coaches, and I have to thank God. Words can’t even explain it right now.”
Keenan (10-3) plays Timberland, a 34-14 winner Friday against Woodland in the lower state bracket, for the state championship at River Bluff High next Friday.
“It’s an awesome feeling, an awesome feeling,” Raiders coach Quin McCollum said. “We’re going to enjoy the moment. We’re going to go home and get ready for next week.”
Ahead 19-6 coming out of halftime, Keenan drove 65 yards on 10 plays to go up 26-6. Tiski Gray’s 11-yard TD run capped that drive at the 7:33 mark of the third quarter.
The Raiders then capitalized on a Ninety Six (8-5) fumble when Gathers hauled in a Demarco Ziegler pass from 48 yards out for the second score of the period at the 5:31 mark.
When the Wildcats fumbled again, the Raiders took advantage again. This time, it was a Ziegler-to-Gathers connection at the 5:11 mark that put Keenan ahead 40-6 and proved an insurmountable lead.
“We knew we couldn’t be slacking off after halftime,” Gathers said. “Right then and there, I knew I had to make some big plays for my team, and that’s what I did.”
Three Wildcat touchdowns in the fourth quarter cut into that lead, but the Raiders were well on the way to victory.
The Raiders and Wildcats battled through a scoreless first quarter before both offenses clicked.
Keenan lit the fireworks with Ziegler’s 22-yard touchdown pass to Kendrick Gathers on a fourth-down play with seven minutes left in the first half.
A few minutes later, Ninety Six quarterback C.J. White, feeling the Keenan blitz for most of the first half, connected with Rod Johnson on a screen pass. Johnson rumbled down the left sideline most of the way to complete a 51-yard TD pass play.
Keenan clung to a 7-6 lead when Wyatt Owens’ point after failed, but Ziegler connected with Khi Baker on a catch-and-run to make it 13-6 with less than two minutes to go.
Rodrick Jones intercepted a White pass and ran it back 62 yards to give the Raiders a 19-6 lead at the half.
“We felt like when we went in at halftime, if we limited turnovers and stayed focused, we would be OK,” McCollum said. “We were really fortunate in the third quarter, we had some bounces go our way and we were able to convert.”
K – Kendrick Gathers 22 pass from Demarco Ziegler (Troy Brown kick) 7:00
N – Rod Johnson 51 pass from C.J. White (kick failed) 3:44
K – Khi Baker 42 pass from Ziegler (kick failed) 1:55
K – Rodrick Jones 62 interception return (pass failed) :17
K – Tiski Gray 11 run (Brown kick) 7:33
K – Gathers 48 pass from Ziegler (Brown kick) 5:31
K – Gathers 43 pass from Ziegler (Brown kick) 5:10
N – Jonah Butler 29 run (Wyatt Owens pass from White) 8:22
N – K.D. Carter 22 pass from White (James May kick) 4:39
K – Tyreick Davis-Newton 16 run (kick failed) 3:16
N – Dadrekus Hill 7 pass from White (May kick) :44
RUSHING – Ninety Six, Johnson 19-58, Butler 11-91, White 10-(-8). Keenan, Davis-Newton-19-140, Ziegler 5-19, Gray 6-32, Gathers 5-26, Cato 1-2, Trezevant 2-1.
PASSING – Ninety Six, White 16-10-1. Keenan, Ziegler 15-8-1.
RECEIVING – Ninety Six, Johnson 2-63, Hill 3-26 Carter 2-63, Hite 1-(-1), Butler 1-1. Keenan, Gathers 4-115, Baker 1-42, Cato 1-3, Wilson 1-0.