NORTH AUGUSTA - Kevin Smith made sure the Joe Long era at North Augusta started on a good note.
Smith accounted for 142 yards of total offense and three touchdowns as North Augusta stunned Strom Thurmond 23-14 in the season opener for both squads.
The lead changed hands four times in the contest but not for the final time until Joe Cartledge drilled a 41-yard field goal with 6:44 remaining in the game to give the Yellow Jackets a 16-14 lead.
North Augusta forced Strom Thurmond into its fourth turnover when Jovon Nabritt recovered his second fumble of the game with 6:25 remaining in the contest.
Smith helped turned the turnover into points when he scored on an 8-yard run with 4:03 remaining to put the game away.
"Everybody has kind of underestimated us," Smith said. "Some people said we would lose by 21 points but we won by 10. I think that says a lot."
Long had high praise for his senior quarterback and was ecstatic with the win.
"Kevin (Smith) was the key because of his running ability," Long said. "Until our offensive line matures, we need an athlete that can run the ball and Kevin gave that to us."
Strom Thurmond committed five turnovers in the contest that North Augusta used to score the final 10 points of the game.
Strom Thurmond lost running back Dameon Dugar (hyperextended knee) and linebacker Tellex Lanham (dehydration) to injuries in the first half, and they did not return.
Rebel coach Brian Smith said turnovers and those two injuries were huge losses for his squad.
"I complimented him," said Smith of Long. "Joe's a great guy. I haven't known him very long but I think he's doing a great job. From looking at film, I like what he is trying to do on offense and defense."
Kevin Smith's running ability made Rebel coach Brian Smith reminded him of Seneca quarterback Joe Don Reames, who helped Seneca defeat Strom Thurmond 14-7 in the Class AAA Upper State finals last season. The North Augusta quarterback was elusive the entire night.
"We would have him pinned in and he would get away," said Brian Smith of the Yellow Jacket quarterback."
The lead changed hands for the third time when the Rebels took advantage of the Yellow Jackets' third turnover of the contest in the third period.
Josh Yonce gave Strom Thurmond a 14-13 lead when he caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Antwaun Hillary with 6:56 remaining in the third period.
Kevin Smith sparked North Augusta to a 13-8 halftime lead. Smith accounted for 96 yards of total offense and two touchdowns in the opening half. He helped North Augusta to a 7-0 lead when he hit Marco Floyd on a streak pattern for a 30-yard touchdown run on the team's first possession of the season.
Strom Thurmond took an 8-7 lead in the second period thanks to a safety and defensive back Jonathan Mathis' 80-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
Smith would give the Yellow Jackets the lead back with a 31-yard touchdown run with 3:09 remaining in the first half. The run attempt was no good.
North Augusta outgained Strom Thurmond 186-66 in the opening half, including 120 yards rushing on 21 carries. Smith completed 2-of-4 passing for 66 yards and rushed 30 yards on six attempts in the opening half.
Strom Thurmond only had nine yards rushing on 11 attempts in the first half. Star running back Dugar, the area's leading returning rusher from last season, was injured with 6:27 remaining in the first quarter and did not return for the remainder of the opening half.
Rebel linebacker Lanham forced two fumbles, recovered a fumble and teamed with Avery Williams for a safety on Smith in the opening half.
Strom Thurmond 0 8 6 0- 14
North Augusta 7 6 0 10- 13
NA- Marco Floyd 30 pass from Kevin Smith (Joe Cartledge kick)
ST- Safety, Avery Williams, Tellex Lanham tackle Smith in end zone
ST- Jonathan Mathis 80 on fumble return (pass failed)
NA- Kevin Smith 31 run (run failed)
ST- Josh Yonce 6 pass from Antwuan Hillary (conversion failed)
NA- Cartledge 41 field goal
NA- Smith 8 run (Cartledge kick)