SUMTER, S.C. - James Marion didn't count on feeling this badly after his first varsity game.
"It's heartbreaking, that's the only way I can describe it," said the sophomore, following Aiken's 28-21 overtime loss to mighty Sumter Friday night in the season opener at Memorial Stadium.
Sumter senior tailback Jerome Kennedy finished off a big night with the game-winning touchdown in the second overtime period, after the teams traded TDs in the first overtime.
The Gamecocks, ranked No. 3 in the state in Class AAAA, put it away on Aiken's second possession in the Kansas City Shootout - where both teams get four chances to score from the 10-yard line until the tie is broken.
The Gamecocks defense forced Aiken to try a 27-yard field goal that senior Scott Bradford missed, and Kennedy took care of the rest.
"Jerome came up huge for us, and I'm so happy to get this one out of the way," said Sumter coach Tom Lewis of Kennedy, who finished with 178 yards on 32 carries and three touchdowns. "Aiken is one heckuva team, and I'm happy to see we could play with them."
Despite the result, the Hornets were feeling much the same afterward.
"We played a great game against a great team and just came up a little short," said Dean. "We proved that we can play with just about anyone tonight."
"I'm pleased with these kids' efforts, the way they came back from some early mental mistakes," said second-year head coach Carey Johnson. "We just got a little tired at the end, and the numbers caught up with us. Sumter's got 65 players on their side and we have about 35, and that hurt us."
Aiken trailed 14-7 at the half, but recovered a Sumter fumble at the start of the third quarter to set up the score that sent it to overtime.
Senior quarterback Brandon Dean cashed in on the turnover with a 1-yard touchdown keeper on the ensuing drive to tie it at 14-14.
Marion varsity career began inauspiciously when he fumbled at the Aiken 25 on his first career carry - the Hornets' second play of the game, but he felt his team made a statement.
"They're a great football team and we showed a lot of heart," said the 5-foot-6 back, whose fumble set up Sumter's first score - quarterback Antonio James' 7-yard keeper to finish a 10-play, 79-yard drive which ate 5:24 of first-quarter clock. "We showed we could stay in there with them."