Blackville-Hilda 10, Bamberg-Ehrhardt 7
Blackville, S.C. - Would Johnny Brown get there in time?
His answer was what Blackville-Hilda fans hoped for: yes.
Brown blocked a punt in Bamberg-Ehrhardt territory late in the first half, and the ensuing field goal was the margin of victory in a 10-7 victory before 5,000 fans at Richard l. Huggins Stadium on Friday night.
The win in the Class A lower state final put the Fighting Hawks in their first state championship game in a decade.
"There were two good football teams out here," Blackville coach David Berry said. "Our kids bent but never broke. We bent, bent, bent but never broke, and you have to give our kids credit.
"There wasn't a whole lot of difference between these two teams tonight. We were just fortunate to be able to keep them out of the end zone tonight."
Brown and teammate Damien Campbell had decided pre-punt that they would give the Red Raiders' U.S. All-American, Ricky Sapp, a decision to make in punt formation. They both would rush the punter. Sapp, as the punt protector, only would have time to get to one of them.
Sapp chose Campbell, Brandon Berry capped the drive with a 26-yard field goal on the final play of the first half, and the rest is Hawk football lore.
"Me and one of my teammates decided to push (Sapp) aside and go get it, that's all there was to it," said Brown, who had an untouched run at Bamberg punter Seth Jeffcoat.
"We decided to go get it. I had plenty of time, I just couldn't get on it. And then there was no doubt that Brandon (Berry) would get it. We have all the confidence in him."
The two teams traded scores in the opening half of play, with the Hawks (14-0) scoring on a 33-yard run by Blackville tailback Marcus Allen in the first quarter and the Red Raiders (12-2) countering with a 15-yard scoring run from fullback Craig Barnwell in the second quarter.
But in the second half, what had already become a defensive battle tightened up considerably, mirroring the first contest played between the two squads earlier this season - a 14-10 Blackville win - with the Red Raiders controlling the clock, but being kept out of the end zone by the Hawks' defense.
Bamberg went for it on fourth down five times in the fourth quarter; Blackville stopped the Red Raiders three times. A fourth resulted in a 27-yard field goal attempt that sailed wide right.
"The kids played hard and I'm proud of them," said Bamberg coach Ron Duncan, whose team knocked off defending champion Lamar on the road last week.
"We had a breakdown on the punt team and they took advantage of it. We moved the ball 20-to-20 but just couldn't quite punch it in there. What can I say? We had big long drives, we just couldn't put it in there."
Berry - making his first trip to Williams-Brice Stadium for the title game - says his team, and the Blackville community, are just happy to be back in the hunt for a state championship. They play Calhoun County next Saturday at 5 p.m.
"This thing could have gone either way, but this will be my first time going to Williams-Brice and for our kids and our community it's just wonderful," Berry said. "The kids work hard and if it isn't broken we don't try too much to fix it.
"What more can you say?"
Bamberg 0 7 0 0 - 7
Blackville 7 3 0 0 - 10
BH -- Marcus Allen 33 run (Brandon Berry kick), 2:03
BE -- Craig Barnwell 15 run (Kevin Fisk kick), 6:14 BH -- Brandon Berry 26 yard field goal, :03
First Downs 4 15
Rushes-Yards 26-110 51-153
Passing Yards 13 33
Comp-Att-Int 1-3-2 4-10-1
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 0-0
Penalties 6-40 3-15
Blackville-Hilda: Marcus Allen 13-59; Broderick Raysor 8-36; Taylor Hampton 3-8; Tyrone Williams 2-7. Bamberg-Ehrhardt: Brian MacMillan 23-88; Craig Barnwell 18-80; James Wilson 9-(-17); Terry Close 1-2.
Blackville-Hilda: Brandon Pressley 1-3-2 13; Bamberg-Ehrhardt: James Wilson 4-10-1 33.