COLUMBIA — In a rematch of an October regular-season contest, the Thomas Heyward Rebels got the sweetest revenge, crushing the Bethesda Blazers 30-6 behind a dominant defense to capture their second straight SCISA 1A state championship.
“We came back and got the ultimate trophy,” THA coach Nic Shuford said. “We didn’t execute great all the time, but we did do it much better in the second half.”
Football is a game of making adjustments, and the Rebels’ defense may have performed their greatest yet from one game to another. In the regular-season matchup on October 18th, the Blazers put up 428 yards. In the rematch, the Rebels held them under 100.
“I think the last time we played them was a disappointment for us,” senior lineman Dalton Hayes said. “Ever since that game we’ve just been working our behinds off to improve, improve, improve, and we finally got there.”
Neither team could find their offense early. The Rebels committed seven penalties in the span of just two drives. Their luck started to change late in the first quarter, when Bethesda’s star running back, Jaden Wright, fumbled inside the team’s own 5-yard line, and the Rebels quickly punched it in with Bruzza Pusha to take a 6-0 lead.
“We had some jitters early on, and that turnover on their 2 settled us down,” said Shuford.
Then, an unexpected play extended the Rebels’ lead. Pusha took a shot to receiver Zack Black, who caught the ball just beyond a lurking defender and turned on the jets as he ran to the end zone for a 59-yard score.
“I felt like everybody got hyped over it, and I just had to keep pushing and keep telling everybody to get up,” said Black.
Just as the Rebels seemed to be in control up 14-0, Pusha fumbled inside his own 20, and suddenly the Blazers were finally in business, getting on the board with a 5-yard Jonathan Joseph run. After a bad handoff, the Rebels fumbled the ball again on their own side, but the defense, like they did all game long, stood tall.
The Rebels had a chance to extend the lead before halftime after a 60-yard JR Patterson run, but a Pusha TD scamper was called back by an offensive penalty, and a last-second throw went incomplete.
Thomas Heyward’s biggest stamp on this game may have been an 87-yard drive in the third quarter, as Patterson, John Clark Tilton, and Pusha could not be contained, a representation of their outstanding season in one big trip down the field, capped off by a 16-yard Patterson run to take a commanding 22-6 lead. The defense didn’t let the Blazers even get close the rest of the way, coming up with three fourth-quarter interceptions, and a second Patterson TD put the thing away.
Patterson rushed for 174 yards and two touchdowns, while Pusha added 72 and a score on the ground. Black was the main man through the air, with two receptions for 81 yards and a TD.
|MORE STATE CHAMPIONSHIP COVERAGE|
|Rebels’ defense rises to the challenge|
|THA vs. Bethesda photo gallery|
After gashing the Rebels for over 200 yards in October, Wright was completely neutralized and held to just 27 yards. Joseph led the receiving game, catching five balls for 33 yards.
After losing twice during a three-game stretch — albeit defeats to SCISA 2A champion Trinity-Byrnes and Bethesda — the Rebels rallied to dominate their final four games en route to successfully defending their title.
“The Trinity-Byrnes game, we kind of wrote that off as a one-time thing, but that Bethesda game was really the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Hayes said. “Our older guys and our big-time players really stepped up to lead the younger guys. We just came together and kept pushing. We had to play team ball instead of playing as individuals, and that’s what got us here.”
Sonny Halker, Black, and Josh Gobel came up with interceptions for THA, leading an incredible defensive effort.
“I thought it was going to be a little bit more competitive coming from Bethesda, but we just pushed them over easily,” Black said. “We knew they were going to come with a good game plan, but we came with a better one.”
Shuford was overwhelmingly proud of how this budding dynasty has performed.
“Our goal is to build a successful program, not just a team,” Shuford said, “and everyone bought into it this year.”
— Wes Kerr, LowcoSports.com