LEXINGTON - For awhile it looked like the winner of the South Aiken-White Knoll game might be the team that had the ball last. South Aiken made sure it was, defeating the Timberwolves 36-33 in Region 4-AAAA play.
The win may have put South Aiken into the mix for the playoffs, but the loss pretty much ended White Knoll's first shot at the postseason in the school's short history.
"We got the ball back with about 4:40 left, and they didn't touch it again," South Aiken coach Robert Wrightenberry said. "That to me was the biggest drive of the game.
"Somebody told me tonight that if we won, we had enough points to be in, but I don't know. I just knew we had to win the football game. If we didn't win, it didn't matter what else happened."
The Thoroughbreds won, but it wasn't a foregone conclusion. South Aiken led by two touchdowns in the first quarter and trailed by two at halftime.
White Knoll scored three touchdowns in a three-minute, 14-second span but couldn't hold the lead in the third quarter.
The Timberwolves led 26-14 at intermission but coach Mark Cagle's team never stopped South Aiken in the second half.
"We didn't make the plays on defense," Cagle told his team at midfield after the loss. "Blame me for not having you prepared."
South Aiken struck for two first-quarter scores, on runs of 1 and 53 yards by quarterback Bucky Washington, before the Timberwolves took over in the second.
White Knoll scored four touchdowns before the half, three coming directly after South Aiken turnovers.
The Timberwolves' first touchdown, a four-yard run by Alex Clark, came after a methodical 13-play, five-and-a-half minute drive.
After White Knoll cut it to 14-7, South Aiken's Washington fumbled the ensuing kickoff, which was recovered by the Wolves' Bear Revels.
Three plays later, quarterback Kyle Lawson found Hunter Counts for a 22-yard touchdown pass, the first of two for Counts.
White Knoll's Skyler Walker recovered his own onside kick at midfield, and - one play later - Counts pulled up on a fake end-around, and lofted a 49-yard scoring toss to Josh Holman.
Aiken's Washington fumbled the ensuing kickoff and sent White Knoll on a five-play, 21-yard scoring drive with Lawson hitting Daniel Taylor from seven yards out.
South Aiken scored on their first possession in the third quarter with an 11-play, 85-yard drive, capped by a seven-yard burst by tailback Jeremy Alston to cut the lead to 26-21, and Aiken scored again on a six-play, 51-yard drive with eight seconds left in the quarter on a three-yard run by Alston.
The Thoroughbreds took a 10-point lead on three-yard sweep by Alston in the fourth quarter after a White Knoll fumble at midfield.
White Knoll fought back, cutting the margin to 36-33 with a 48-yard pass from Lawson to Counts with 4:52 left in the game.
From there, however, they never got another chance.
"I have always said that football is won between the tackles, and I think we showed that tonight," Wrightenberry said.