If you listened to the two head coaches after No. 5 Sumter’s 28-7 victory over Blythewood Friday night, you would almost think the numbers were reversed on the scoreboard.
Sumter coach Mark Barnes had a fiery speech for his team afterward, basically telling them he wanted to be great, not average. Even though he was being honest with his team, it was still a three-score win that gives them control of the Region 4-5A race with two weeks to play.
“They’re a good football team and I think we have an opportunity to be a great football team, so that’s why I’m so disappointed in the way we played tonight,” Barnes said. “We won 28-7 so the game wasn’t really in question. It’s just a matter that we didn’t do a good job in the second half offensively at all. We didn’t block them. We didn’t do a good job and we just have to be better than that.”
On the other sideline, Blythewood coach Jason Seidel was optimistic with what he saw. The Bengals had several chances — they dropped passes that would have been sure touchdowns and went 0-for-3 on red zone opportunities — but came away with just a single touchdown in the first quarter.
“I thought we opportunities,” Seidel said. “We had two dropped balls that should have been in the end zone. Our kids are going to watch film and go, ‘Oh my God, we were right there.’ I thought our defense did a great job on that team.”
Sumter (7-0, 2-0) hasn’t been challenged since a season-opening seven-point win over Rock Hill and features one of the state’s best defenses, allowing just over 8 points per game. Led by senior defensive back and South Carolina commit O’Donnell Fortune and junior defensive end Justus Boone, the Gamecocks limited the Bengals to 302 yards of total offense.
More importantly, it was the fourth-down defense and forcing turnovers that proved to be a key. Sumter limited Blythewood (5-3, 1-1) to 6-of-16 on third down and 3-of-8 on fourth-down conversions. They also forced two fumbles and intercepted two passes.
“Our defense played pretty good, I thought, and kept them out of the end zone,” Barnes said.
Sumter jumped to a 14-0 lead late on the first quarter with a quick flurry of two scores in 1:23. After forcing a Blythewood punt on the opening possession, the Gamecocks marched 63 yards in 11 plays to take a 7-0 lead on an 11-yard scramble by Hayden Vasquez.
On the next Bengals possession, Jabari Tiller picked off an errant pass and returned it 42 yards to the Blythewood 6-yard line. Two plays later, Nathan Harris powered in from the one-yard line.
Blythewood (5-3, 1-1) answered with its best drive of the half, a 10-play, 77-yard one that resulted in a 23-yard touchdown from Josh Strickland to David Patten on fourth down. That was the second fourth-down conversion on the drive for the Bengals, the first coming from their own 32-yard line.
Sumter made it a two-possession game, 21-7, at the half with a 2-yard Harris run with 1:17 remaining in the half. That 60-yard, five-play drive was set up on another fourth down stop.
Blythewood played the second half without starting quarterback Josh Strickland. He tweaked his knee late in the first half and didn’t return. The Bengals defense did limit Sumter to 199 yards overall and just 56 in the second half but the scoring in the opening half was more than enough for the Gamecocks.
Harris scored his third touchdown of the night early in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
“I think both teams lost some steam in the second half when their quarterback didn’t play,” Barnes said. “I think it actually hurt both football teams as crazy as that sounds.”
HOW THEY SCORED
S – Hayden Vasquez 11 run (Dyson Roberts kick) 4:16
S – Nathan Harris 1 run (Roberts kick) 2:53
B – David Patten 23 pass from Josh Strickland (Jerry Finney kick) 0:02
S – Harris 2 run (Roberts kick) 1:17
S – Harris 1 run (Roberts kick) 11:28
Rushing: S: Anthony Dinkins-McCall 12-73, Hayden Vasquez 7-21, Nathan Harris 8-16, Team 3-(-21). B: Brandon Edwards 9-18, Aamir Washington 6-43, Josh Strickland 2-15, Dhani Dixon 5-34, Desmond Boatwright 3-2. King Ford 15-25.
Passing: S: Vasquez 15-24-0-110. B: Strickland 15-26-1-131; Ford 6-17-1-34.
Receiving: S: Tylee Craft 4-21, Marcus Lane 6-66, Lodaine Redwood 2-13, Jordan McGee 2-9, Dinkins-McCall 1-1. B: Josh Burrell 4-38, David Patten 7-47, Edwards 3-11, Washington 3-29, Noble Cooper 4-40.