It took the Augusta Christian Schools football program 28 years to win its first state title. The prize was worth the wait.
"This is something that none of us will ever forget," Augusta Christian coach Bruce Lane told his team after the Nov. 18 24-7 win in the South Carolina Independent School Association AAA State Championship game. "The journey getting here was more rewarding."
The Lions completed their journey with their state title victory over Porter-Gaud School in Orangeburg, S.C., on Nov. 18. The win came with senior quarterback Lee Banks leading the way.
"This is big," Banks said. "Everybody put it all on the line tonight and praise God we came up with the win."
Banks played a big part in the victory, completing 10 of 15 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns. The senior completed the best season in Augusta Christian quarterback history with a school record 20 touchdown passes and more than 1,200 yards through the air.
In the state championship game, Banks connected with junior Josh Whitaker and senior Austin Greene on scoring strikes of 11 yards and 4 yards, respectively.
Meanwhile, the Augusta Christian ground game racked up 155 yards on 44 carries. Senior Brad Meister led the charge with 50 yards rushing on nine carries, including a 6-yard touchdown dive.
"Our offensive line took over the line of scrimmage," Lane said. "That was toughness that we developed in the offseason."
While the Augusta Christian offense found their groove, the Lions' defense provided the difference in the game.
The defense forced three fumbles and grabbed three interceptions to stifle any chance of a Porter-Gaud scoring drive. Augusta Christian junior Will Wright caught two of those interceptions.
Wright's three picks in the past two games gives him a school-record eight interceptions for the season.
"It used to be that quarterbacks would try to pick on Will," Lane said. "He's improved as much as any kid in the program."
The surprise of the game came when senior running back Kyle Meeks took the field for Augusta Christian. Meeks, whose 10 touchdowns are second-highest on the team, went down with a dislocated elbow in the first round of the state playoffs and was supposed to be out for the season.
"It was too hard for me to stand on the sideline and watch," Meeks said. "It still hurts, but this was the biggest game of my life. I couldn't miss it."
Meeks saw a limited role in the game and took seven carries for 13 yards.
"It was his decision," Lane said. "That shows the type of kid he is. I think he was satisfied with how he got to contribute tonight."
Although the state championship is the first ever for the football program, it also marks the second state championship in six months for the school after the Lion baseball team claimed the SCISA state title in May.
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 868-1222, ext. 114, or firstname.lastname@example.org.