COLUMBIA -- Six inches.
That's all that kept the Chester Cyclones from possibly tying the game and maybe winning their first state championship since 1963.
Chester (12-3) has not attempted a PAT all season, relying on two-point conversions after scoring its 60-plus touchdowns. The situation came up -- twice -- in the Class AAA state championship game against Wilson at USC's Williams-Brice Stadium. The Cyclones' 71 percent rate of making them meant squat against the Tigers, who stopped both Chester attempts in a 14-12 win.
"We told our guys before the game that the two-point conversions could be big,'' Chester coach Victory Floyd said. "We said they could be the difference in the game. They stopped us.''
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The first attempt followed a touchdown on Chester's opening possession of the game. The Tigers fumbled at their 31 and nose guard Bobby Jackson recovered for the Cyclones. Chester got on the scoreboard 8:53 into the game on a 1-yard run by Terrell Springs.
Quarterback Gene McCaskill tried the two-pointer with a pass that was batted down on the field of play.
Wilson (12-3) came right back and took the lead on Deshawn Bonds' 10-yard run. The Tigers took the lead for good at the end of the first quarter, getting what turned out to be the winning touchdown on a 13-yard run around right end by quarterback Richard Cue.
In between, the Cyclones let a good opportunity slip through their fingers. No, it wasn't a dropped pass. It was a mental mistake by McCaskill, who shouldn't be criticized for trying to make a play.
At the Tigers' 21, McCaskill was flushed out of the pocket on fourth-and-nine and scrambled toward the left sideline under a heavy rush. He pulled up and floated a pass over a defender and into the hands of Jeremy Hughes in the back-left corner of the end zone.
No good, ruled the officials, and they were correct. McCaskill was at least five yards beyond the line of scrimmage and the ball went back to Wilson.
"To lose the way we did, it was crazy, really crazy,'' said Jazz Strong, a junior defensive lineman. "Our seniors have worked hard the last four years and we felt all season we could win the state.
"Every one of us will have to carry this game the rest of our lives. We'll always look back and try to figure what we could have done better. Maybe we can get back here next year.''
The game had its strange moments, none more than the supposed final snap of the first half.
Chester called a trick play that went in the wrong direction -- forward not backward. McCaskill, the starting quarterback moved back under center with three seconds left before the break.
The Cyclones needed to make something happen and hope it somehow ignited the spark Chester seemed to be missing.
McCaskill fired a pass to C.C. Whitlock along the right sideline. Whitlock made the catch, and flipped what was supposed to be a backward pass to Jeremy Hughes. Problem was, Whitlock flipped it forward.
Flags littered the field and the referees huddled. A half can end on an offense penalty but not one committed by the defense. When the huddle broke, offsetting penalties were called -- Chester for an illegal forward pass and Wilson for an incidental face mask.
Chester was awarded an untimed play because the clock showed all zeroes. It ended on an interception by Wilson's Justin Henicks.
It left a bizarre feeling among the fans sitting on the lower deck of the stadium -- Wilson's on the home side, Chester on the visitor's. Although Wilson hung to a 14-6 lead at the break, it appeared neither team had played in sync.
"We didn't come to play in the first half, never showed up,'' said Cyclones' Mario Hughes, a senior linebacker. "When we finally realized what we needed to do, it was like it was too late.
"To stand there and watch those final 21 seconds was tough. All we could do was watch because there was nothing left for us to do.''
Chester got the lone touchdown of the second half, made it look too easy. McCaskill, was on the run again like he was most of the game, but this time pulled up well behind the line of scrimmage. He tossed a short pass to Whitlock in the back-right corner of the end zone, so wide open that he stood up straight and made the catch with little effort.
Trailing 14-12 and with 10:40 left in the game, the Cyclones looked to be in good shape. McCaskill, who ran 21 times for 81 yards, called his own number. He dove through the right side toward the end zone. Several Cyclones raised their arms in the air to signal he had scored.
But the referees have the final say and their response was he didn't.
The Cyclones had it rough in the first half as far as field position goes, starting at their 31 twice, 16, 15 and 9. The second-half scoring drive started in the third quarter and ran into the fourth. It started at the 18, covered 82 yards and lasted 13 plays.
As if it was supposed to happen, time was a factor at the end. Wilson was trying to eat the clock and faced a third-and-17 at Chester's 37. But the Cyclones had used all their time-outs and could only watch as the final 21 seconds melted. When the clock got down to eight seconds, Wilson's players walked toward their bench pointing to their fans in the stands.
It was their first state title since 1953 and before integration. Chester's 44-year wait goes on.
Chester 6 0 0 6 -- 12
Wilson 14 0 0 0 -- 14
Go to heraldonline.com for expanded coverage of Saturday's game:
• Video highlights
• Photo gallery