COLUMBIA — The last team that stopped Hammond from winning a state championship wasn’t able to derail the Skyhawks’ quest for a state record sixth consecutive title.
Hammond, which two weeks ago defeated Augusta Christian 21-20 on Senior Night in Augusta, downed the Lions 49-20 to earn a berth in the South Carolina Independent School Association Class AAA championship game next Saturday night at Benedict College.
“Our kids stayed composed against a good team,” said Skyhawk coach Erik Kimrey. “The last minute before the half ended and the first minute of the third quarter were the difference in the game. We scored quickly, then in the third quarter they made a mistake and we were able to capitalize on it. I think that’s what really gave us the advantage tonight.”
With under a minute to go in the first half and the Skyhawks leading 21-7, Ronald Brown intercepted a tipped pass from Lion quarterback Tyler Roberson at the Hammond 36. On Hammond’s first play, Jake Nidiffer connected with Doak Fisher for a 51-yard completion deep into Augusta Christian territory. Nidiffer found B.J. Bennett from 13 yards out on the next play to stretch the Skyhawk lead to 28-7.
On the first play of the third quarter, a botched exchange by Augusta Christian on a handoff led to another turnover. On Hammond’s first play, Bennett took a handoff and rumbled 8 yards into the end zone for his fifth total touchdown. Bennett would finish scoring runs of 4, 2, 14, 8, and 3 yards to compliment his touchdown reception, gaining 174 yards on the ground and 51 through the air. The touchdown capped a stretch of three Skyhawk scores in 1:30.
Augusta Christian was led by Grant Newman, who caught two passes, both for touchdowns, totaling 99 yards. Workhorse running back Thomas Banks rushed 18 times for 88 yards.
“We ran into a buzzsaw,” said Augusta Christian coach Keith Walton. “We started the game off well, and then on our second possession we had some key penalties and never recovered from those.”
A short punt on Hammond’s first possession gave Augusta Christian favorable field position. The Lions moved 38 yards in six plays to take a 7-0 lead. The drive’s key play came on a draw play to Banks that gained 13 yards on third-and-10. Tyler Roberson capped the drive with a 2-yard scoring rush.
Hammond would score 49 unanswered points before the Lions found the end zone again midway through the fourth quarter, forcing five three-and-outs and keeping Augusta Christian out of the end zone on eight consecutive possessions. Between allowing a 38-yard touchdown drive on the Lions’ opening possession and a 79-yard fourth quarter drive, the Skyhawks gave up a paltry 53 yards.