Instant Classic: Griffins Rally Over Chester

Kedar Jennings (1), Jeff Russell (3) and the Griffin defense give chase to Chester QB Malik Williams. (Photo/DeAnna Robinson)

Kedar Jennings (1), Jeff Russell (3) and the Griffin defense give chase to Chester QB Malik Williams. (Photo/DeAnna Robinson)

WINNSBORO (Oct. 22, 2016) – Fingernails were chewed down to the quick. On the home side of E.K. McLendon Stadium, Griffins’ fans were on their feet and teetering on the very edge of potential heartbreak. On the far side, the Chester faithful were delirious for one more shot at the end zone and a chance to tie, or even win, Friday night’s Region IV/3A battle for first place.

It was the proverbial ‘Instant Classic.’

With 32 ticks left on the clock, down 28-21 and facing a fourth-and-8 from the Griffin 15, Chester’s Superman quarterback Malik Williams took the snap out of the shotgun, scrambled to his right and rifled the ball into the end zone.

But the Griffin defense batted the pass away from the intended receiver, sealing up the win and taking command of Region IV with two games remaining on the schedule.

“They (Chester) were 7-1 for a reason,” Griffins head coach Demetrius Davis said after the dust had settled.

Back in August, Davis pegged Chester as the team to beat in Region IV. Friday night did nothing to change his opinion of the Cyclones.

“They’ve only lost one other game this season, to Westwood, by three points,” Davis said. “They’re for real. That’s a good football team over there.”

And propelled by the rocket fuel of Williams, who threw for 131 yards and rushed for 121 more with a pair of TDs, the Cyclones had control of the contest Friday for a little more than three quarters.

Although the Griffins took the early 7-0 lead on Jerrell Suber-O’Neal’s 50-yard blast on Fairfield Central’s first play from scrimmage, Chester quickly recovered.

Pha’Leak Brown took the pitch from Williams on the option for a 41-yard score with 7:52 to go in the first, then Williams capped a 63-yard drive in the second with a 2-yard run to put Chester up 14-0 going into the half.

The Griffins, who had not played football since Sept. 30, suffered from self-inflicted wounds. Fairfield Central was tagged with 107 yards in penalties – 67 of which came in the first half – while the passing game was virtually non-existent, with Stanley McManus eking out a mere 33 yards through the air while tossing two interceptions at critical moments.

McManus’s first error came with 21 seconds left in the half – a potentially game-tying toss picked off in the end zone by Zion Mills. Mills got his second pick with 21 seconds to go in the third, killing a Griffin drive on the Chester 39.

“I think that came from being a little rusty,” Davis said. “We’ve had that hurricane week (Sept. 7), then we had an off week. We’ve gone about three weeks without playing a football game – probably about 21 days of us not having pads on and hitting somebody. I think that might have had something to do with the rust.”

Things began to go sour for the Cyclones, however, in the final 12 minutes.

The Griffin defense began nipping at Williams, bringing pressure, forcing incompletions and sacking the monumental athlete for big losses. With just over 9 minutes to play, one such loss set the Cyclones up with a fourth-and-23 from their own 39. The snap on the punt sailed over John Erby’s head. Erby recovered, but was swarmed by the Griffin defense at the Chester 22.

It was the turning point of the game, Davis said.

“If we don’t stop them there, they punt the ball and we have to drive the ball 80 yards,” Davis said. “You know the odds are against you having to drive the ball 80 yards to score every time.”

Instead, Ah’Quil Ross took the end-around and jetted to the Chester 8 to set up first-and-goal. Two plays later, McManus banged it home to narrow the gap to 14-13. The 2-point conversion gamble came up short, however, and the Cyclones still held the edge.

Chester momentarily sucked the wind from the sails of Fairfield Central’s rally, scoring on the second play of their ensuing drive. Williams exploded around the rim of the Griffin defense for a 71-yard touchdown run, and with 7:49 left in the game it appeared as though that would be enough to put Fairfield Central away.

But the Griffins would not be so easily cowed.

The offensive line took control of the trenches and the Griffins’ ground game took control of the rest. And they did so with two-thirds of their running back corps out of the game. Suber-O’Neal was out with an ankle injury, while Tony Ruff went down with a neck wound – both before the half. But sophomore Rodriguez Edmonds answered the call.

“When times get tough, the people in the stands talk about ‘Throw the ball! Throw the ball!’ If they want somebody to throw the ball, they’re going to have to get somebody else,” Davis said. “We want to pound the football. That’s what we do.”

And that’s what they did.

Down 21-13, Kedar Jennings returned the ensuing kick from the 34 to the Griffin 47. On back-to-back carries, Edmonds mashed the ball first to the Chester 28, then the 20. Ross couldn’t turn the corner on the next snap, but on third-and-2, Edmonds hammered his way to the 17 for a first down. McManus pummeled to the Chester 9, and from there Edmonds finished the deal. Edmonds tacked on the 2-point conversion run to tie the game at 21 with 5:14 left on the clock.

Edmonds was good for 119 yards on 16 carries for the Griffins.

The Griffin defense dispatched Chester on three downs on the Cyclones following drive, forcing a punt from the Chester 15. The boot gave Fairfield Central another short field opportunity at the Chester 39.

They did not waste it.

On second-and-4, Edmonds drilled the Cyclone defense, giving the Griffins a first down at the Chester 11. McManus put it away on the next snap, and his extra point handed Fairfield Central their first lead since the 10:13 mark of the opening frame, 28-21.

The Twisters still had life, however, and 3:30 to live it.

Although the Griffin defense had pushed Williams and the Cyclones back to their own 7, and a fourth-and-27 do-or-die play, Williams somehow delivered.

In the grasp of three Fairfield Central defenders and going down in his own end zone, Williams let the ball fly. Brown made a stunning grab on the sidelines at the Chester 38 for a miraculous first down, and it looked as if the Cyclones might rally.

Penalties again stained the Griffins’ efforts, with two big 15-yarders eventually setting the Cyclones up at the Fairfield Central 17 for Chester’s last stand.

The Griffins threw Williams for a loss, back to the 22, and on second-and-15 Williams’ pass fell incomplete. On third-and-15, Williams scrambled to the Griffin 15. In the closing seconds, on fourth-and-8, the Griffins’ secondary stamped Friday night’s bill ‘Paid in Full.’

“These guys played a football game, and we won a tough football game,” Davis said. “If we can win these last two, we can win a region championship.”

The win gives the Griffins (6-2/2-0) control of Region IV. Chester falls to 7-2, 2-1 in region play. The Griffins travel to Indian land next Friday, then to Camden on Nov. 4 to make up the Hurricane Matthew game.

 

C: 7-7-7-0 – 21

FC: 7-0-6-15 – 28

 

SCORING SUMMARY

First Quarter

FC – Jerrell Suber-O’Neal 50 run (Stanley McManus kick). 10:13.

C – P. Brown 41 run (John Erby kick). 7:52.

Second Quarter

C – Malik Williams 2 run (J. Erby kick). 5:30.

Fourth Quarter

FC – S. McManus 1 run (run failed). 8:37.

C – M. Williams 71 run (J. Erby kick). 7:49.

FC – Rodriguez Edmonds 9 run (R. Edmonds run). 5:14.

FC – S. McManus 11 run (S. McManus kick). 3:30.

 

TEAM STATS

 

C                                             FC

First Downs                        15                                           14

Rushes-Yards                     43-195                                   40-293

Passing Yards                     131                                         33

C-A-I                                      11-22-0                                 5-14-2

Fumbles-Lost                     0-0                                          0-0

Penalties-Yards                 6-55                                       11-107

 

INDIVIDUAL STATS

RUSHING: C – Jalyn Reid 2-4, Malik Williams 31-121, P. Brown 10-70. FC – Jerrell Suber-O’Neal 3-63, Tony Ruff 3-30, Stanley McManus 13-51, Rodriguez Edmonds 16-119, Jamon Jackson 2-10, Ah’Quil Ross 3-20.

RECEIVING: C – Quay Hardin 1-4, T. Mills 3-21, John Erby 5-56, T.J. Hollis 1-9, P. Brown 1-31. FC – J.R. Edmonds 2-7, Jamas Goins 1-7, Antonio Jackson 2-19.

PASSING: C – Malik Williams 11-22, 131 yards. FC – Stanley McManus 5-14, 33 yards, 2 INTs.

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