Griffins Face Familiar Foe in Semifinal

Fairfield Central’s Davon Pearson takes Cheraw’s Randall Watson by the shirt tail as Dustin Padgett (44) swoops in to finish off the Braves running back during the Sept. 27 meeting between these two Upper State finalists. (Photo/DeAnna Robinson)

WINNSBORO – It is difficult to imagine topping Friday night’s dramatic finish that gave the Fairfield Central Griffins a 28-27 victory over the Newberry Bulldogs in round three of the Class 2A-D1 state playoffs, but believe it or not the Griffins indeed have one more hurdle to clear before packing their gear for Benedict College Stadium and a return to the state title game on Dec. 6.

The Griffins will have to overcome the Cheraw Braves this Friday, will have to do it on the road and will have to do it for the fourth time in less than a calendar year. No small order, in spite of the Griffins’ 41-6 win over the Braves at E.K. McLendon Stadium back on Sept. 27. The Braves are on a roll, winners of seven straight, including last Friday’s 41-26 win over Pelion in round three.

Cheraw hasn’t lost a game, in fact, since Sept. 27 – to Fairfield Central, 41-6. That loss strapped the Braves with a 1-4 record going into region play. The Braves opened 2013 with a close 15-13 loss at Camden on Aug. 23, took a beating from Marlboro County the following week, 50-7, before notching their first win of the season, 34-16 over Marion. The Braves held powerful Hartsville to 28 points on Sept. 20, but were held off the scoreboard entirely in the loss. After falling to the Griffins, the Braves then swept through Region IV, knocking off Indian Land (12-6), Andrew Jackson (40-20), Buford (19-0), Central (29-7) and Chesterfield (32-28). The Braves earned a bye in round one of the state playoffs, then eliminated Columbia 26-6 in round two before dispatching Pelion last week. The Braves average 21.6 points per game on offense, while their defense has given up 20.25 per game. A small margin of error, indeed.

In their last three meetings, the Griffins have outscored the Braves 110-22. In their last match-up, the Braves came out to stifle the run, loading up the box with eight men. That only allowed Griffin quarterback DeAndre Belton to air the ball out in the early going. Belton threw for 217 yards against Cheraw on Sept. 27, including a 59-yard touchdown to Javaris Cook in the third quarter. As the passing game took its toll, the Braves were forced to react. That opened up the ground game for the Griffins, which ultimately tallied 238 yards.

The Griffin defense, meanwhile, punished the Braves, holding them to three first downs in the first half and only nine on the night. Cheraw managed only 6 first-half rushing yards and 25 first-half passing yards; but 35 yards in penalties cut the Braves’ first-half output to an anemic -4. On the night, the Braves were held to 31 yards rushing and 113 yards passing, reaching the end zone late in the game against the Griffin reserves on a 6-yard pass from Tristen Campbell to Lincoln Cooper.

Although the Griffins held a slim 14-0 lead going into the half on Sept. 27, a third-quarter eruption of 27 points put Fairfield out of reach. The Griffins scored on Joseph Young runs of 16 and 12 yards, the 59-yard pass from Belton to Cook and a 52-yard interception return by Chris Boyd.

If past is prologue, Friday’s Upper State final will be an anticlimactic finish to the top half of the 2A-D1 bracket.