Griffins Secure Region, Spoil Homecoming for Former Coach

Compton Walker (4) returns a Pelion punt for a touchdown in the first quarter Friday night.

Larry G. Bell (28) rumbles into the end zone.

Friday night was something of a homecoming for Pelion head coach Ben Freeman, who from 1986 to 1989 racked up a 20-24 record as the first head coach of the Fairfield Central Griffins. It was his first trip back to Winnsboro in an opposing uniform, and a trip he would probably like to forget as Fairfield Central rolled over the Panthers 56-0 to wrap up the Region III 2-A title.

“It was not much fun tonight,” Freeman said. “I got to see a few people at halftime, got to see a few old friends, and I enjoyed seeing them. But they’ve got a good football team. They’ve got a ton of speed, and it’s not just in a few spots, it’s all over the field, and that’s where we struggled. We’re pretty good when we can run right at people, but we just had a hard time stopping them.”

The Griffin speed showed itself early, as Compton Walker took a punt off the Panthers’ first possession at the Fairfield 34 and sliced through the Pelion coverage for a lightning-quick score. The point after sailed wide, leaving the Griffins with a 6-0 advantage at the 9:34 mark in the first quarter.

Damien Bell showed the Panthers his speed with a 38-yard punt return off the next Pelion possession, setting the Griffins up on the Pelion 26 with 7:01 to play in the quarter. Thirty-nine second later, Bell would finish the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run to put Fairfield up 12-0.

The Griffin defense was relentless and unforgiving, and in spite of early gains in the short passing game by the Panthers, held them to just 51 yards in the air.

“Our defensive coach did a good job changing the coverage on (the short pass),” Griffins head coach Demetrius Davis said. “Once we took that away, they tried to go downfield a little more and we were able to cover that.”

On the next Pelion possession, Fairfield Central’s Raheim McDaniel recovered a fumble by Pelion quarterback Zach Hawkins at the Griffin 41. Although the Griffin drive was marred by penalties, Larry G. Bell eventually drove the point home with a 14-yard run with 2:10 in the first.

Trailing 18-0, Pelion took the kickoff at their own 25 and returned it to their 39. Mounting one of their most successful drives of the night, the Panthers drove the ball to the Griffin 23 before the Fairfield defense stiffened. Facing a fourth-and-3, Freeman’s Panthers elected to press on, but the short pass finally failed them and Pelion was forced to turn it over on downs.

On the first play from scrimmage following the turnover, Griffin quarterback DeAndre Belton linked up with Keith Workman for a 77-yard touchdown pass that stunned the Panther secondary and, with Walker’s first successful PAT of the night, put Fairfield Central up 25-0.

“Our defense did a good job tonight,” Davis said. “We still gave up some stuff I wish we didn’t. They probably ran to close to 100 yards on us. We’ve got to play a little better, tackle a little better.”

The Panthers, in fact, rushed for 129 yards against the Griffins, but never saw the end zone. They would come as close as the 4-yard line before the clock ran out in the fourth quarter. The Panther’s passing game, meanwhile, virtually disappeared midway through the second quarter and never returned.

“They started playing a little tighter coverage on (the short pass),” Freeman said. “They’re so fast, they took some stuff away. And we were trying to make the clock run some, too, to keep the ball out of their offense’s hands. We had some stuff that was open (in the second half), but they started sacking us.”

The Griffins took a 39-0 lead into the locker room at the half, with a 6-yard run by Antonio Lewis and a 5-yard run by Damien Bell rounding out the first-half scoring.

Larry G. Bell put the finishing touches on the Griffins’ opening possession of the third quarter with a 5-yard touchdown run that capped an 89-yard, eight-play drive that took 2:42 off the clock. Walker added a 17-yard field goal late in the quarter to put the Griffins up 49-0 heading into the final frame. Sophomore Joseph Young would deliver the final points with a 20-yard scoring scamper with 10:34 left in the game.

While a win next week over North Central would give Fairfield a spotless region record, tonight’s win gives the Griffins (with their head-to-head wins over Keenan and Columbia) sole and insurmountable possession of first place in Region III. The region crown means a bye in week one of the 2A playoffs and home-field advantage in week two. Still, Davis is not quite satisfied with where his Griffins are.

“(A region title) was one of our goals,” Davis said, “but we’re not playing good enough to win big-time playoff games. Too many penalties. No turnovers, so that’s a plus. In order to win big-time playoff games, you’ve got to have no turnovers and no penalties. You’ve got to play mistake-free football.”

FC  18-21-10-7  56

PHS 0-0-0-0  0

First Quarter

FC – Compton Walker 66 punt return. Kick failed. (9:46)

FC – Damien Bell 10 run. PAT failed. (6:21)

FC – Larry G. Bell 14 run. Kick failed. (2:10)

Second Quarter

FC – Keith Workman 77 pass from DeAndre Belton. C. Walker kick. (7:33)

FC – Antonio Lewis 6 run. C. Walker kick. (4:53)

FC – D. Bell 5 run. C. Walker kick. (1:35)

Third Quarter

FC – L.G. Bell 5 run. C. Walker kick. (8:18)

FC – C. Walker 17 FG. (1:20)

Fourth Quarter

FC – Joseph Young 20 run. C. Walker kick. (10:34)

FC                           PHS

First Downs        11                           11

Rushes/Yards    24-213                   43-129

Passing Yards     162                         51

C-A-INT               5-5-0                      7-12-0

Penalties/Yards     8-70                       6-50

Fumbles/Lost    0-0                          2-1

RUSHING: FC – Damien Bell 11-115. Byron Simpson 1-34. Daniel Maple 1-4. Joseph Young 2-24. Larry G. Bell 6-25. Tyren White 1-3. Antonio Lewis 1-6. DeAndre Belton 1-2. PHS – C. Richard 14-38. J. McFadden 4-12. Z. Hawkins 2-(-9). I. Jenkins 20-88. F. Phillips 2-(-3). R.R. Jones 1-3.

PASSING: FC – D. Belton 3-3-117 1 TD. D. Bell 1-1-29. D. Maple 1-1-16. PH – Z. Hawkins 7-12-51.

RECEIVING: FC – Raheim McDaniel 1-34. K. Workman 1-77. D. Maple 1-6. J. Cook 1-16. D. Belton 1-29. PH – T. Davis 4-11. S. Guess 1-10. J. Lang 2-19. C. Richard 1-21.

Records: FC – 4-0/6-2 PH – 2-2/3-6

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