By Justin Jarrett | LowcoSports@gmail.com
So many times Friday night, it seemed Thomas Heyward was one play away from punching its ticket to the SCISA Class 1A state championship game. But in the end, it was Pee Dee Academy that came up with the big plays when it needed them most.
The visiting Eagles rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit for a 42-34 win, ending the Rebels’ eight-game winning streak – and their season – in crushing fashion.
“It was a couple plays here or there, man,” Rebels coach Nic Shuford said. “That was the game.”
There were two dropped passes that might have been touchdowns. At least two dropped interceptions. And far too many third-down conversions for a Pee Dee offense that rolled up more than 450 total yards.
“We’d take away one thing, and they’d start doing something else,” Shuford said. “They had a great game plan. They came out and executed well offensively, that’s for sure.”
Pee Dee quarterback Jake Lane finished 30-for-41 for 338 yards and five touchdowns, and most importantly his last two passes both went for scores – a 36-yard strike down the left sideline to Caleb Oakley to give the Eagles a 35-34 lead with 4:27 left, and a 30-yard toss to McKinley Smith on a fourth-and-9 with 25 seconds left to seal it.
The Rebels came out swinging, as JR Patterson broke a 21-yard run on his first carry of the night and added a 26-yard TD run later in the possession for a 7-0 lead, but Pee Dee answered with a methodical drive ending with Lane’s 6-yard strike to Connor Gasque.
Bobby Payne returned the ensuing kickoff 75 yards for a score to put THA up 14-7, and Zack Black’s interception set up Patterson for a 9-yard TD run to make it 20-7 with 7:47 left in the half. Pee Dee responded with another scoring drive capped by Lane’s 11-yard TD pass to Gasque, but THA quarterback Logan Thomas scrambled for 17 yards and hit Joseph Gibson for a 15-yard TD a play later to give the Rebels a 26-14 lead – and all the momentum – going to halftime.
The Rebels got a big defensive stop coming out of the locker room but the offense couldn’t follow suit, and Smith broke a 14-yard TD run to pull the Eagles within 26-21. A Rebel fumble on the next possession set up Lane’s 21-yard TD pass to Oakley, giving Pee Dee its first lead of the night with 4:24 left in the third quarter.
THA responded with a scoring drive capped by Thomas’ 1-yard plunge and Patterson’s two-point conversion run to make it 34-28 with 2:09 left in the third quarter, but Thomas went down with a left ankle injury while playing defense early in the fourth quarter. The Rebels got a fourth-down stop to get the ball back, but the offense sputtered without the senior quarterback.
Pee Dee forced a turnover on downs near midfield and capitalized when Lane hit Oakley in stride up the left sideline for the go-ahead score. A short kickoff gave the Rebels good scoring position, and Payne’s 28-yard run on a jet sweep followed by Patterson’s 9-yard run moved THA inside the Eagles’ 30-yard line in search of a go-ahead score. After an incomplete pass, though, the Eagles took down Payne for a loss on fourth down, and they sealed the win with a gutsy call on fourth-and-9, as Lane hit Smith out of the backfield for the back-breaking touchdown.
Smith finished with 66 yards on 15 carries and caught 12 passes for 126 yards, while Gasque and Oakley each had five receptions and two touchdowns.
“We knew coming in they were going to be a tough task to slow down offensively, for sure, and they were,” Shuford said. “They’ve got a lot of weapons over there.
“I knew they could score at any time. That was a heck of a game. I’m sure it was fun to watch.”