Columbia treated the South Pointe Stallions so well Friday night, they decided to make a return trip next week.
The Stallions (11-3) blew the wings off A.C. Flora (12-2) in the second half, out-scoring the host Falcons 19-0 en route to a 40-21 3A Upper State championship game victory. South Pointe will face Hartsville in the title game next Saturday at 3 p.m. in Columbia’s Williams-Brice Stadium.
“I’m just proud of our guys,” said South Pointe coach Strait Herron, who coached the Stallions to the 2011 3A state title. “They did what we wanted to do, what we needed to do, and we get to play one more week.”
Junior quarterback Greg Ruff piloted South Pointe to its best passing performance of the year. He completed 19-of-23 throws for 428 yards and six touchdowns. Five different Stallion players caught touchdown passes, Quay Brown leading the way with two, including a crucial one just before the half that tied the score at 21.
“It’s the stuff that we work on and it’s good to see that it actually came through, did what we expected,” said Herron.
The game’s complexion, score, momentum, everything basically, changed in the third quarter. With the score tied at 21, South Pointe marched down the field and Ruff found running back Shawn McCullough open for a 21-yard touchdown in a play very similar to one that worked last week against Belton-Honea Path.
The two-point attempt failed, and the Stallions were nearly cursing themselves after a pair of 15-yard flags breathed first downs into Flora’s ensuing drive. But on fourth and goal from the 2, South Pointe’s defense, which limited Flora to roughly 70 yards rushing in the second half after allowing 230 in the first half, walled off the end zone and kept the Falcons out.
South Pointe defensive coordinator Jason Winstead said the Stallions moved eight men into the box in the second half to gum up the Falcons’ running lanes. And Flora’s cause was also severely hurt when standout Denzel Johnson had to leave the game in the third quarter with what looked like concussion symptoms.
“You don’t want to see anybody get hurt. He’s a great player,” said Herron.
South Pointe took advantage of the chance to stiff-arm the hosts, producing a 99-yard touchdown march. On third and 3 from the South Pointe 7, Ruff hit Josh Wilkes crossing the field for a big gain and a first down – Wilkes had 109 yards receiving and a touchdown – before later firing a short pass to Brown, who pin-balled off a tackler and raced 38 yards through a channel of blocking for six points.
“I can do a spin move,” said Brown, who had 103 yards receiving, one of two Stallions over 100. “That’s my only move.”
Flora needed an answer on its next drive but was forced to punt. On first down, South Pointe went for the throat, Ruff lobbing a ball into the path of Wilkes, who ran by his man and caught the ball for a 69-yard touchdown. It was 40-21 with over 10 minutes to play, but the game already felt over.
That was a far different feeling from the first half.
It took Flora a combined 29 seconds to answer South Pointe’s first two scores. The Stallions took the lead through a short swing pass to Deshawn Davis that the senior took 26 yards to the end zone, with the aid of a fine block on the edge by fellow receiver Wilkes. But Flora’s standout do-everything athlete, Johnson, took the ensuing kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown, with all of 11 seconds ticked off the scoreboard.
In the second quarter, South Pointe took a 14-7 lead, Chris Smith continuing his stellar postseason this time on the offensive side of the ball, snaring a screen pass, bouncing off a couple of half-hearted tackles and out-sprinting a defensive back for an 88-yard touchdown. Smith said afterward he had dreamed about scoring a touchdown Thursday night, albeit on the defensive side of things.
But Flora needed just 18 seconds to equalize. Clarence Watson took a first down hand-off 77 yards to the promised land, tying the score 14-14 with 7 minutes, 39 seconds left in the half.
Flora had its first lead of the game in its talons with 1 minute, 31 seconds left in the half. Johnson danced for 22 yards down to the South Pointe 4, and after a delay of game penalty, Donald Gist ran the ball in from 9 yards for a 21-14 lead.
But South Pointe responded immediately, marching 60 yards in just over a minute to tie the game with 19 seconds left in the first half. Ruff flicked a pass toward Brown at the goal-line and he snatched the ball over the defensive back’s raised hands for his first touchdown of the contest.
“That was a big score,” said Herron. “Usually most teams are just gonna take a knee and get to halftime, but our offense kept going.”
And it didn’t stop. South Pointe will play Saturday for the 3A state title, the third time in as many opportunities.