Since joining the South Carolina Independent Schools Association four years ago, Augusta Christian has spent most of its time in the win column.
That is, unless a region title was up for grabs.
The Lions (8-2) have hoisted a state championship trophy and boast a 35-9 record against SCISA teams, but a Region 1-AAA title has eluded them.
Hammond (9-1) entered the game as the defending SCISA Class AAA state champions and claimed a second consecutive region title with a 28-21 win.
It was the Skyhawks' third consecutive win over the Lions and came with defensive stud Stone Pinckney out with an injured ankle.
"We were pretty concerned about that, but the defense did a great job tonight," Hammond quarterback Cliff Ayers said.
Ayers and the Skyhawks' offense jumped out to an early lead with a 13-play, 72-yard scoring drive to start the game. After Augusta Christian went three-and-out on its first possession, Hammond scored again on a Brad Meredith 5-yard touchdown run for a 14-0 first-quarter lead.
Meredith finished the game with 122 yards on 24 carries. His effort on the ground balanced the Skyhawks' offense perfectly with Ayers' 205 passing yards.
Most of Meredith's yards came up the middle. Most of Ayers' passes went to the outside. It was enough to keep the Lions' defense guessing.
"That's what we wanted," Hammond coach Erik Kimrey said. "We were trying to mix it up so they couldn't hone in on one thing."
Even though Hammond kept its lead through the entire game, Augusta Christian did make it close.
The Lions pulled to within seven points three different times over the course of the night, but they never fully dug themselves out of the early 14-point deficit.
"The key tonight was in games like this you can't make mistakes," Augusta Christian coach Bruce Lane said.
"We didn't have any turnovers, but we had some crucial penalties and just made some mistakes that hurt us."
Augusta Christian made an attempt at a fourth-quarter comeback but had to do so without starting quarterback Tyler Bourdo.
The senior left the game early in the fourth quarter after taking a blow to the head and didn't return.
Tailback William Banks stepped in and led the Lions on an eight-play, 75 yard scoring drive to move to within a touchdown, but that's as close as the home team got.
"We wanted it real bad. We felt like this was our year for it," Augusta Christian senior Travis Cerasuolo said. "They're better than what we thought they were."
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 863-6165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
HAMMOND 28, AUG. CHRISTIAN 21
PLAY OF THE GAME: On third-and-long near midfield, Hammond tailback Brad Meredith slipped into the flat undetected, caught a pass from Cliff Ayers and ran 46 yards for a touchdown and a 21-7 lead in the second quarter.
WHY HAMMOND WON: The Skyhawks' early 14-0 lead was the key. Hammond only had to play even with the Lions the rest of the way.
WHY AUGUSTA CHRISTIAN LOST: The Lions gave up short passes to the outside and short runs to the inside. Those small gains turned in to time-wasting drives in the second half that kept the ball away from Augusta Christian's offense.
STAR OF THE GAME: Ayers completed 17 of 23 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown.
WHAT'S NEXT: Augusta Christian and Hammond will both play host to SCISA Class AAA state tournament first-round games next week.