CLEMSON — Corey Neely did what he does best in South Pointe's 42-27 win over Bluffton on Saturday night in the Class AAA state championship game.
Neely electrified the fans on both sides of Clemson's Memorial Stadium in the first half, running back two punts for touchdowns.
South Pointe has played six varsity seasons. The Stallions were making their third trip to a state championship game. The Stallions (14-1) won the Class AAAA Division II title in 2008, 35-14 over Northwestern. They lost last year to Myrtle Beach.
Neely's first touchdown came with 9:56 left in the opening quarter, and he made it look easy. After fielding Mallie Sprouse's punt at South Pointe's 43, Neely saw the right side was open and hit stride. He was so open that after turning the corner, he was pointing to the Bobcats he wanted his escorts to block. And they did, all the way to the end zone.
"I was not expecting (Bluffton) to kick to us," Neely said. "But our coaches told us they would, that this was a state championship game and they wanted to show they could stop us.
"I'm happy about the two touchdowns, but I'm more happy that we won for everyone that supported us. And I'm happy to win for our head coach (Strait Herron). This was his team all the way."
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Neely scored on another punt return in the second quarter, this time a 53-yard run down the left sideline. But he's wasn't done; he had one more big play before the break.
With the first-half clock winding down, Bluffton got to South Pointe's 31. Bobcats quarterback C.J. Frazier fired a pass down to the Stallions' 12. Neely stepped in and quelled the threat with the game's first interception.
"We saw on video that Bluffton has a good passing team," South Pointe defensive coordinator Jason Winstead said. "We play a lot of good teams that like to throw and when we broke down video, I liked the way we matched up with them.
"Our secondary coaches did a good job getting our backs ready. They might have been more prepared tonight than all season."
Frazier came into the game as one of the top quarterbacks in the state with 3,367 passing yards and 55 touchdowns. Bluffton rode into Clemson as one of the state's hottest teams with a 14-0 record and 787 points scored.
The numbers meant nothing to the Stallions, who owned the Bobcats' offense in the first half. Frazier was 8 of 20 for 93 yards and an interception. Bluffton had only seven first downs and 29 rushing yards on 18 attempts.
Bluffton played most of the fourth quarter against South Pointe's backups and scored three touchdowns. Still, the final numbers hinted at how the Stallions' defense manhandled the Bobcats, who ended up with 210 yards passing and 147 rushing.
Bluffton's lone touchdown of the first half came on a 1-yard run by Jerry Scott, who set up the score on a 42-yard catch and run pass from Frazier to just inside the 1. After the point after, it was 14-7, but Bluffton punted to Neely again, then watched the bottoms of his shoes as he ran down the field.
South Pointe's second touchdown was a 6-yard run by Manzey Miller.
"Those two punt returns killed us," Bluffton coach Ken Cribb said. "They put us in a hole, but don't take credit from South Pointe. They do a good job getting their kids ready.
"This was our first time in the state championship, but we'll be back. We have six players back on both sides of the ball, including C.J. Frazier, our quarterback."
South Pointe came out of the half blazing and quickly drove 60 yards for another touchdown. After carrying only three times for 15 yards in the opening half, quarterback Devin Pearson punched in and began calling his own number.
Pearson capped the drive with a 1-yard sneak and ran through the left side for a 2-point conversion and a 28-7 lead.
Bluffton answered with another threatening drive, but Pearson ended it with an interception at the Stallions 4. On a series of keepers, Pearson ran the Stallions out of trouble and led them on a 96-yard scoring drive.
The final seven yards came on Miller's second scoring run.
With the score 35-7 starting the final quarter and the outcome all but determined, the Stallions began subbing on defense. Scott scored on a 10-yard run, but South Pointe countered with a Pearson-to-Montay Crockett 18-yard touchdown pass.
That was South Pointe's final touchdown and pushed the Stallions' lead to 42-13. Bluffton scored the final two touchdowns: a 1-yard Scott run and Fazier's 4-yard pass to Demetrius Smalls.
"Corey Neely had an unbelievable night," said Herron, in his first year as a head coach. "My old track coach, Bob Jenkins, shot me a message and asked what I was going to do if we won. I sent one back telling him I might retire. But now, I can finally relax."
SOUTH POINTE 42, BLUFFTON 27
SP -- Corey Neely 57 punt return (Logan Ard kick)
SP -- Manzey Miller 6 run (Ard kick)
BL -- Jerry Scott 1 run (Mallie Sprouse kick)
SP -- Neely 53 punt return (run failed)
SP -- Devin Pearson 1 run (Pearson run)
SP -- Miller 8 run (Ard kick)
BL -- Scott 10 run (kick failed)
SP -- Pearson 18 pass to Montay Crockett (Ard kick)
BL -- Scott 1 run (Sprouse kick)
BL -- C.J. Frazier 4 pass to Demetrius Smalls (Sprouse kick)
RUSHING -- South Pointe: Brandon Barber 7-72, Miller 12-53, Pearson 13-63, Josh Brice 3-4. Bluffton: Jerry Scott 14-80, Tykeem Major 9-49, Eric Boyles 8-14, Dimitri Lowry 5-110.
PASSING -- South Pointe: Pearson 14-19-116-0. Bluffton: Frazier 16-31-210-2.
RECEIVING -- South Pointe: Crockett 4-51, JaRyan Jennings 4-23, Tay Hicklin 3-17, Barber 2-22. Bluffton: Lowrey 5-110, Boyles 5-37, Scott 3-42, Marquis Webber 2-17.
RECORDS: South Pointe: 14-1. Bluffton: 14-1.