JOHNSTON, S.C. — Strom Thurmond quarterback Raleigh Yeldell slowed to a jog as he crossed the goal line, flipped the ball casually to the official and circled around to take a knee for his next duty as the extra point holder.
Aside from a light helmet slap from teammate Marquez Mathis, there was little fanfare or celebration after Yeldell scored the first of seven touchdowns.
A 49-21 state playoff win over Emerald was the goal for the night, but the Rebels are hardly satisfied.
“We knew what we had to do, so we were going to go do it,” Yeldell said. “We had to do it for (injured tailback Darius Hammond), for our past and for us, but we’re not done. There’s more to do.”
No. 2 Strom Thurmond advanced to the Class AA Division I Upper State Championship with a dominant performance on both sides of the ball. Even without Hammond, done for the year with a broken ankle, the undefeated Rebels (12-0) had no trouble running all over No. 6 Emerald (7-6).
Yeldell scored twice on the ground and threw for another.
Hammond’s backup, senior Malcolm Watkins, rushed for 167 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries.
And the Rebel starting defense held Emerald scoreless until the game was well out of reach. They passed the fourth-quarter workload on to the backups with a 49-7 lead.
“I’m proud of the guys,” head coach Lee Sawyer said. “They came out with a killer instinct tonight.”
Sawyer, who was dissatisfied with a closer-than-expected win over region opponent Keenan in the second round last week, said he challenged his players in practice to stay focused on the task at hand.
The Rebels, who have seen their season come to an end in the state quarterfinals each of the past four years, broke through with a convincing win – their 33rd victory in 37 home games.
“For me, it’s a little emotional right now,” Yeldell said. “All those years it was hard because we couldn’t get over that hump. Tonight we finally got over the hump.”
Strom Thurmond wasted little time taking control. Yeldell’s nonchalant romp from four yards out came on the ninth play of a 63-yard opening drive for a 7-0 lead.
Watkins carried the ball four consecutive times to cover 42 yards on the Rebels’ second possession for a 14-0 advantage through the first quarter.
Yeldell and Watkins finished off two more scoring drives in the second quarter to make it 28-0.