Fourth-Down Gambles Pay Off for Griffins

Josh Bell (4) makes a leaping try for a Stanley McManus pass. (Photo/Joe Seibles)

Josh Bell (4) makes a leaping try for a Stanley McManus pass. (Photo/Joe Seibles)

WINNSBORO (Nov. 21, 2015) – It takes a strong stomach to tempt the Fates on fourth down. Stronger still with the season on the line. Fairfield Central, apparently, has guts of iron.

The Griffins rolled the dice four times Friday night in round two of the Class 2A/Division 1 playoffs, finding the stick each time as they ejected Woodruff from E.K. McLendon Stadium, 27-10.

“Had we not got any of them, I would have been the worst coach of the year,” Griffins head coach Demetrius Davis said. “But we got them, we won, I’ll take it.”

Fairfield Central pressed their luck three times on one drive alone; the drive that ultimately took the steam out of the Wolverines’ engine.

Clinging to a 13-10 lead with 5:27 left in the third quarter, the Griffins took over after a Woodruff punt at their own 42 and engineered a series that drained the third quarter clock and took a bite out of the fourth.

Chipping away at what all night had been a very stingy Wolverine defense – a defense that had held the Griffins to just two first downs in the first half – the Griffins quickly found themselves facing a fourth-and-inches from the Woodruff 49. Jerrell Suber-O’Neal delivered on a 5-yard carry to keep the drive alive, but after three more snaps, it appeared that the Griffin advance again would stall.

Up against a fourth-and-4 at the Woodruff 39, the Griffins lined up to punt. But a direct snap to Suber-O’Neal caught the Wolverines off guard and the junior running back came through again with another 5-yard gash.

As the third quarter evaporated, the Griffins had nosed their way to the Woodruff 28, but once again it was fourth-and-4. As the final frame began, quarterback Stanley McManus took the snap, set up in the pocket and delivered to Tykedrist Gibson at the Woodruff 19. Four plays later, McManus shoved his way into the end zone from 1 yard out. Austin Gregory’s point after gave the Griffins some breathing room at last with a 20-10 lead with 10:01 left in the game.

The Wolverines made for a fierce opponent, but it was neither their high-powered offense nor their freshman phenom quarterback Keegan Halloran that pushed the Griffins to the brink. Instead, a pair of special teams miscues by the Griffins kept the game close through three quarters.

Fairfield Central jumped out to a 7-0 lead when Josh Bell punctuated the Griffins’ opening possession on the fourth play of the drive, hauling in a 46-yard McManus pass for the score.

The Wolverines had a shot to even things up midway through the quarter. Taking over at the Griffin 35 after a shanked Fairfield punt, Halloran and running back Jarius Thompson propelled Woodruff to the Griffin 7 for a first-and-goal. But the Griffin defense made a stand, pushing the Wolverines back to the 12 where they faced a fourth-and-goal. Decision time.

Instead of booting in 3, the Wolverines opted to go for the 6.

Halloran rolled out to his right, looking for a man in the end zone, but Daryl Camack and Marshawn Geiger smothered the freshman at the 10.

Unlike the Griffins, the Fourth Down Fates were not so kind to Woodruff Friday, as the Wolverines went 0-for-3 on last-ditch attempts.

But Woodruff would not come away from the south end of the field entirely empty handed. As the Griffins scratched out but 2 yards on the takeover, and with the clock winding down, they lined up to punt on fourth-and-8. The snap went high, and while McManus hauled it down, he was tackled in the end zone by Shadon Jones for the safety.

The defenses then went to work as both teams exchanged punts for much of the second quarter. An interception by Jeff Russell at the Woodruff 44 with just over 4 minutes left in the half set the Griffins up for their second TD of the game. It was one of two Griffin picks on the night, the second coming from Chad Sampson late in the half.

“That’s big, because he (Halloran) is a freshman,” Davis said of the pick-offs. “You got a freshman out here playing with house money, just throwing it all around the yard. In his mind, nobody expected him to win, so he’s out there playing with house money. So we’re able to get in his brain a little bit, I think that helped us.”

On third-and-4 after the turnover from the Woodruff 38, Tony Ruff broke through the Wolverine line and into the linebacker zone. Once there, he erupted with a burst of speed that sent him flashing into the end zone with 2:36 on the clock. The 2-point attempt failed, but the Griffins had found a little distance at 13-2.

“Any time Tony (Ruff) gets it, he can dadgum go the distance,” Davis said. “He can do it.”

The Griffins’ hopes of taking a two-possession lead into the locker room were dashed, however, when, with just 37 seconds left before the break, the Wolverines blocked a McManus punt at the Fairfield 47. Triston Evans scooped up the ball for Woodruff and bolted in for the score. Halloran’s 2-point toss to Keith Pearson made things tight at 13-10.

“We gave up some pressure (on punts) last week, so we knew they were going to overload our A guy,” Davis said. “So we put our tight front in, we put the joker in tight, and the joker blocked out and let the guy come inside. That’s the first punt we’ve had blocked, I think, since I’ve been here.”

It would be as close as the Wolverines would get, as the Griffins owned the second half.

Another failed Woodruff gamble on fourth-and-3 with just over 7 and a half minutes left in the game set up the final Griffins score of the night. Fairfield Central took over on their 40 and Suber-O’Neal led the charge to the Woodruff 8 and a first-and-goal. Two plays later, he took the toss from McManus on the sweep left, turned the corner and found the end zone.

“Our defense played lights-out,” Davis said. “And I told you that’s what we’ve got to do this time of year. We’ve got to play good on defense, play good on special teams – and we jacked up special teams. But we played good enough on offense to make up for it. We didn’t turn the ball over and we got two turnovers, so we won the turnover margin.”

The win sets the Griffins up for a rematch with the Newberry Bulldogs next week for the Upper State title. Newberry bounced Strom Thurmond 51-28 Friday on the road.

Back on Oct. 9, the Griffins escaped with a 29-27 win at home over the Dogs in a classic.

Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. at E.K. McLendon Stadium.

 

W: 2-8-0-0 – 10

FC: 7-6-7-7 – 27

 

First Quarter

FC – Josh Bell 46 pass from Stanley McManus (Austin Gregory kick). 10:30.

W – Shadon Jones safety. 0:00.

Second Quarter

FC – Tony Ruff 38 run (pass failed). 2:36.

W – Triston Evans 47 blocked punt return (Keith Pearson 3 pass from Keegan Halloran). 0:37.

Third Quarter

FC – S. McManus 1 run (A. Gregory kick). 10:01.

Fourth Quarter

FC – Jerrell Suber-O’Neal 7 run (A. Gregory kick). 5:48.

 

Team Stats

W                                            FC

First Downs                                        6                                              9

Rushes-Yards                                     22-40                                     45-192

Passing Yards                                     61                                           75

C-A-Int                                                 10-17-2                                 5-8-0

Fumbles-Lost                                     1-0                                          0-0

Penalties-Yards                                 4-16.5                                    4-30

 

Individual Stats

RUSHING: W – Jarius Thompson 12-39, Shadon Jones 3-3, Keegan Halloran 6-(-3), Jamon Thomas 1-1. FC – Stanley McManus 15-20, Jerrell Suber-O’Neal 20-97, Tony Ruff 6-60, Rodrick Woodard 1-6, Chad Sampson 1-1, Roderick Sparks 1-2, Zchivago Herndon 1-6.

PASSING: W – Keegan Halloran 10-17, 61 yards, 2 INT. FC – Stanley McManus 5-8, 75 yards, TD.

RECEIVING: W – Keith Pearson 5-36, Triston Evans 1-5, Austin Smith 2-5, Jarius Thompson 1-10, Shadon Jones 1-5. FC – Josh Bell 1-46, Jerrell Suber-O’Neal 1-0, Chad Sampson 1-14, Qua’terrious Thompson 1-6, Tykedrist Gibson 1-9.