Griffins clinch region at Chester

CHESTER – Fairfield Central went into Friday night’s game seeking not only their ninth consecutive win over the Chester Cyclones, but another Region 4-3A title for the trophy case. It took everything the Griffins had in the playbook, but they emerged with a 34-24 victory and the distinction of being region champs.

Quay McBride (11) extends just in time to knock the ball off course. | Bill Marion

Chester could not seem to get out of their own way. They racked up 20 penalties for almost 200 yards and suffered more interceptions in three quarters than they’d had in the previous nine games combined.

The Cyclones actually stormed out to an early lead. Aided by a pair of personal fouls against the Griffins, Chester only needed four plays to move 54 yards on the opening march. Stan Mills had a 30-yard run and quarterback John Erby finished it off, sneaking in from two yards to give Chester a 7-0 lead.

After a three-and-out and a short punt by Fairfield Central, Chester got excellent field position at the Griffins’ 41. The ensuing drive by the Cyclones was bogged down at the eight, but Erby booted a 25-yard field goal and Chester held a 10-0 lead.

Fairfield Central responded with an 11-play drive that chewed up almost six minutes of clock. The Griffins kept it mostly on the ground with Tony Ruff logging seven carries, but when they did go to the air, they were successful.

Quarterback Jacob McManus completed a quick-hitter to Montavious Thompson for eight yards, then, facing third-and-long, drilled a pinpoint throw to Ny’Darious Williamson for a 16-yard touchdown and a 10-7 score. Three plays later (on the first play of the second quarter) Ah’Quil Ross intercepted a Chester pass. That would not be the last time Ross made a huge play for the Griffins. Six plays later, McManus ran a keeper straight up the gut on a zone read play for a nine-yard score and a 13-7 Griffins lead.

Chester rebounded quickly, snatching the lead back on its next drive. The Cyclones had two big third-down conversions, one on a 10-yard pass to Mills and another on 14-yard Erby-to-T.J. Hollis hookup. Pha’Leak Brown ultimately scored on a two-yard run and after a successful try for two, Chester led 18-13.

Hollis came up with another big play, intercepting a McManus pass on Fairfield’s next possession. Chester got a 21-yard pass from Erby to Quay Hardin to move into scoring position, then Hardin out-jumped a defender for a 16-yard touchdown and a 24-13 lead.

Fairfield got the ball back with only 1:26 left before the half, but on third-and-long, Ruff broke a tackle in the backfield, got outside and raced 42 yards. The Griffins drove to the Chester 18 and appeared to miss out on a scoring opportunity with a dropped pass in the end zone, but nine-tenths of a second was still left on the clock. That one more play was all they needed, with McManus lofting a touchdown pass to J.R. Edmonds with no time left to pull the Griffins within 24-19.

In the second half, the Cyclones were self-destructive. They got a stop on Fairfield Central’s opening drive and moved from their own four to inside the Griffin 20, but a pair of penalties knocked them out of scoring range and forced a punt.

Chester’s defense held again, but the Cyclones suffered another turnover to give Fairfield Central the ball at midfield. Again, the Griffins found the sledding tough against Chester’s defense and brought out the punt team. They had no intention of kicking the ball away, though. They executed a perfect fake, with the punter flinging the ball deep towards the electric playmaker Ah’Quil Ross.

The Chester defender lays it all out in attempt to drag down Griffins’ power back Tony Ruff (29). | DeAnna Robinson

The pass looked overthrown, but Ross made an amazing, fingertip catch for a 41-yard touchdown and a 27-24 lead the Griffins would not relinquish.

Chester looked ready to answer, blowing down the field with a nice mix of run and pass. They were inside 10, facing third down. Instead, Fairfield Central picked off another pass.

The Griffins milked the clock on a 77-yard drive that took nearly six minutes. Ruff punched it in to boost his team’s lead to 10 with only 48 seconds remaining. A desperation heave by Erby was intercepted to end the game.

Ruff finished with 120 yards on the ground and Dorian Glenn added 112 for the Griffins. Erby had 182 total yards for Chester, Brown had 95 and Mills 75.

Fairfield Central improved to 6-3, 3-0 and clinched the 4-3A region title and number one playoff seed. They close their regular season out next week with a home match-up against Indian Land.