CLEMSON -- South Pointe football coach Bobby Carroll sounded like death warmed over Saturday afternoon on his drive back to Clemson.
He hadn't had but a couple of hours sleep since his Stallions beat the Northwestern Trojans 35-14 in the Class AAAA Division II state championship in the same stadium Carroll was headed toward.
And whom could blame him? Carroll has only been a head coach at the varsity level for three seasons. But on Friday night, he arrived. He punched his ticket to the fraternity of past coaches with state titles, and waiting for him at Clemson's Memorial Stadium behind doors that separated the hospitality room from the outside world, were his brothers.
Coaches from around the state. Coaches who played for the championship and carried the big trophy back home.
"I didn't leave the school until five this morning,'' Carroll said through his cell phone somewhere out on I-85. "I was watching the game video from last night. It's amazing. It's great. I couldn't be prouder of a bunch of kids as I am of the ones we had this season.''
The game was intense. It was emotional. It was over early in the second half when South Pointe scored on one of the weirdest punt return plays you'll ever see, and a 19-yard return by defensive back Brandon Hinton.
The ball was snapped over Trojans punter Justin Worley's head. He raced back and picked up the ball and tried to punt it while headed toward the left sideline. South Pointe's Pat Burris got a paw on the ball and it ended up in Hinton's hands. He ran into the end zone untouched and the Stallions went up 21-0.
The most points scored on the Stallions in a game this season was the 17 Laurens put up last week. That's kinda good until you consider South Pointe scored 55.
And that brings us to the question that will rage until at least next season. Who is No. 1 in the state? You are kidding, right?
Gotta be South Pointe. But, you will hear, Byrnes went 14-1, beat Dorman in its rematch to make the state championship round and beat Sumter for the Class AAAA Division I title on Saturday afternoon.
Hogwash. Don't listen to such rubbish.
South Pointe is No. 1 and if my five fellow voters in the final poll coming out this week don't agree, maybe we can arrange some free lobotomies.
South Pointe long snapper Jon Ritcher's dad is an anesthesiologist.
Stallions' state-record kicker -- for PATs in a single season with 78 -- Graham Tuttles' dad is a general practitioner in Rock Hill. I'm sure that with their help, we could come up with a good brain surgeon.
• South Pointe ended up 15-0, Byrnes 14-1.
• Byrnes came back and beat the team that handed the Rebels their only loss of the season, Dorman. In the first meeting, Dorman built a 28-0 lead and held on to win 35-28. Byrnes won the rematch last week, 24-13.
• South Pointe handed Northwestern its only two losses of the season, 28-7 and 35-14. Northwestern ended up 13-2, with wins over 11-3 Rock Hill, 9-4 Clover, 10-4 Lancaster and Chester, which played in Saturday night's Class AAA championship game.
Those facts are more than enough to justify South Pointe being No. 1.
Now that we have hopefully settled that matter, let's take care of a few more details.
In games, no matter how big or how small, one team wins and one team loses. The key word here is team.
In the game I saw Friday night, a three-TD win by South Pointe, there were no losers. I have watched the players on both teams grow as players and as young men, and was in close contact with them over the last few weeks leading up the final dance.
Believe me, not a loser in the crowd. They were winners just by getting there. The parking lot next to the stadium was packed with fans from both teams set up well before 3 p.m., cooking for the masses who made the journey down I-83 to watch the game. And anybody who wished to -- in purple or red -- was welcome to join in and break bread with the enemy.
Y'all folks who set up those grills and prepared feasts, pat yourselves on the back.
And remember, Stallions and Trojans, you'll look back on Friday night for as long as you live. Remember that in your head coaches, you will always have a second dad who cares for you and will always be there.
In the school's two athletic secretaries -- South Pointe's Nancy Weeks and Northwestern's Rose Baker -- you have a second mom. They love you guys as much as their coaches love you.
And guys, thank you for allowing me to come along for the ride. I, like you can now, look back at past championship games.
I've walked off the field with tears rolling down my cheeks, just like most of Northwestern's players on Friday. I've walked away smiling, knowing that one of my teams -- yes, I too feel like you are part of my family -- has completed its mission.
The difference on Friday was that two of my teams were out there, the first time in history for football in Rock Hill -- Football City USA.
Barry Byers • 329-4099 | firstname.lastname@example.org