AIKEN - West Florence had whittled down South Aiken's 17-point lead to three, and the Thoroughbreds were fading fast on a sweltering night at the Stomping Grounds.
It was time for one of South Aiken's senior leaders to make a big play, and Ben Anderson did just that.
The defensive lineman swatted Wesley Snow's fourth-down pass into the air, and the West Florence quarterback was forced to catch his own pass. Anderson and his South Aiken linemates quickly pounced on him.
The Knights turned the ball over on downs, and South Aiken held on for a 17-14 win in the season opener.
"That last play was kind of intense,'' said Anderson, who has committed to play for Georgia Tech. "If they get that first down, they've still got a good chance. I just felt in my head I was going to make a play.''
South Aiken, which has lost plenty of close games in recent years, didn't want a repeat of last year's season-opening loss at West Florence, where the Thoroughbreds lost 7-0 on a blocked punt.
"Last year was a real tough one because we couldn't get the offense going,'' said Anderson, who eight tackles. "We beat them tonight on special teams.''
South Aiken raced to a 17-0 lead and controlled the game well into the third quarter. But West Florence made the home crowd edgy with a pair of touchdowns in a five-minute span.
"I was getting a little nervous,'' South Aiken coach Dan Pippin said. "The kids hung in there. We need to win close games to be a good football team. That's a good football team we beat.''
West Florence had two possessions in the final six minutes that started near midfield, but they could not advance against a South Aiken defense led by Anderson, Dekoda Watson and C.J. Hewitt (11 tackles).
"We did a good job defensively,'' Pippin said. "I just think the defense was on the field too much in the second half. We need to do a better job offensively controlling the football.''
Calvin Fuller was an able replacement at quarterback for Bobby Smith, who didn't play for the Thoroughbreds because of a knee injury.
Fuller played an error-free first half, keeping the Thoroughbreds mainly on the ground, and he scored the only touchdown of the half.
With the Thoroughbreds at the West Florence 30, Fuller faked a handoff and kept the ball. He raced 30 yards through the left side of the Knights' defense to put South Aiken ahead 7-0.
The only other score of the half came when Bret DiTullio connected on a 35-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
South Aiken's final score came on a 32-yard run by Watson after it recovered a West Florence fumble on a punt. The highly touted defensive lineman, who also figures into South Aiken's offense, scored on a reverse.
"We need to find more plays to get him the ball,'' Pippin said.
Reach John Boyette at (706) 823-3337 or firstname.lastname@example.org.