BARNWELL, S.C. -- Despite a 13-0 record, Mac Wier was never satisfied with his team's offense.
Too stagnant, not efficient enough to win a state championship. The Barnwell coach's worst fears were realized Friday night when Batesburg-Leesville stifled the Warhorses option-attack and won the Lower State championship 10-7.
The Warhorses (13-1) were never able to shake the Panthers (11-3) who kept hanging around, ready to pounce on an opportunity when it presented itself. Batesburg-Leesville's persistence paid off late in the third quarter when Barnwell quarterback Marcus Robinson made an option pitch to Andre Smith who was unable to secure the ball.
James Cook recovered the ball on the Panther 14-yard line. The Warhorses had marched 63 yards and were on the verge of padding their 7-3 lead when the turnover occurred. The Panthers would not score on the ensuing possession but were still within reach of the defending Lower State champions.
Batesburg-Leesville finally took the lead with 10:57 remaining in the game. Brian Shealy's 20-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Eric Derrick was set up by an interception. Maurice Cannon picked off an errant Robinson pass and two plays later, the Panthers would get the score that sends them to the Class AA state championship game next Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.
"All I thought about was catching it and scoring," Cannon said.
Wier said turnovers and the inability to run his offense proved fatal. The Panthers played nearly flawless and forced the Warhorses to pass more often than they wanted.
"They didn't make any mistakes and we made a bunch of them," Wier said. "They did a good job of stopping the option and they controlled the ball game."
Smith, who entered the game with 1,109 rushing yards, was held to 39 yards on seven carries. Without its number one option, Barnwell scrapped its run-dominated offense and took to the air.
Robinson was pressured throughout the night and completed five of 13 passes for 80 yards. While the Warhorses' ground game was stifled, Batesburg-Leesville tailback Michael Humphrey rushed for 126 yards on 20 carries.
"I knew if we won this game it'd be close," Panthers coach Phil Strickland said. "We wanted to stop (Smith) and Robinson on the option. We wanted them to pass the ball."
The Panthers will meet the winner of Friday night's Upper State championship game between Pageland-Central and Emerald.
The first half was a defensive struggles with both team combining for just 194 offensive yards. The Warhorses' ground game was effectively shut down by the Panthers. Barnwell had 53 rushing yards through the first two quarters but a 41-yard pass play set up the only touchdown in the first half.
Robinson hurled the ball downfield to sophomore Daniel Creech on second and seven from the Barnwell 40. The 6-foot-3, 175-pounder out-jumped Batesburg-Leesville cornerback Jamarco Parris and came down with the ball.
Creech was tackled at the Panthers 19-yard line. Smith, a senior tailback, picked up 18 of his 31 first-half yards on the next play. Lamont Holloway barreled his way into the end zone with 4:46 remaining in the opening stanza.
The Panthers would get a 37-yard field goal from Michael Ellisor early in the second period. Neither team could sustain a drive the rest of the half and the Warhorses took a 7-3 lead into the second half.
Jimmy DeButts covers high school sports for The Augusta Chronicle. He can be reached at (706) 823-3216.