AIKEN - Midland Valley coach Rick Knight sees shades of his own team in the Aiken Hornets.
Both squads face a series of grueling nonregion games before their region schedule commences.
After opening the season at 0-3, the grind eased up considerably for Aiken, as the Hornets crushed Midland Valley 42-14 Friday at Louis K. Hagood Stadium.
Knight hopes his Mustangs (0-3), who faced three Class AAAA teams to open the season, can recover soon by repeating last year's undefeated Region 5-AAA performance.
"They're a hard-nosed bunch of kids," Knight said of the Hornets. "They look like they're having fun out there. They're just like us. They've been able to hang in there like us."
Aiken did its damage on the ground Friday, on both sides of the ball. The Hornets amassed 285 yards rushing on 46 carriesand limited Midland Valley to just 35 yards on 26 carries, for an average of 1.4 yards per carry.
Nine different Hornets ran the ball, led by George Mathis (81 yards), Tyson Williams (74 yards) and Seneca Stapleton (65 yards).
The Mustangs appeared poised for an upset at first, sparked by the speed and sheer athleticism of junior cornerback Terrence Sapp. On Aiken's second play from scrimmage, Sapp intercepted a Bishop Scott pass and returned it 35 yards to give Midland Valley a 7-0 lead.
The Hornets struck back, when Scott tossed a 19-yard strike to Stapleton. Holder Colt Fox took the extra point snap into the end zone for a two-point conversion, giving Aiken an 8-7 edge.
Early in the second quarter, Maurice Dukes put Midland Valley ahead, 14-8, on a one-yard run. Sapp picked off his second pass of the game three plays later.
"He's just a heck of an athlete," Knight said of Sapp. "When he starts catching the ball on offense like we know he can, he's going to be something to reckon with."
But after Sapp's second interception, the Mustangs went three and out and failed to score the rest of the way.
Aiken tied it at 14 when Mathis dashed to the left side to score from 36 yards out. The Hornets regained the lead for good on a 45-yard interception return by sophomore Pelvin Johnson.
Scott scored on keepers twice in the third period, and Antonio Corley found the end zone from a yard out for the final Hornet touchdown, with just under 7:00 remaining in the game.
"These kids needed something positive to happen," Aiken coach Carey Johnson said. "Our kids held their heads high, came back and went in to the second half with a big lead."