Steven Gilmore Jr. was on the field when South Pointe won the 3A state championship last season against Midland Valley, but he wasn’t an integral contributor.
Saturday’s 4A state championship game was a little different. No, a lot different.
Gilmore Jr. caught six passes for 135 yards and three touchdowns, all in a second quarter blitz that put distance between the Stallions and Hartsville en route to a 51-28 victory. He entered the game as the team’s sixth-leading receiver with a pair of touchdown catches in 14 games. He eclipsed that total in a 4-minute, 3-second span of the second quarter.
“It just worked out,” said Gilmore Jr. “Every game I come with the same mindset and the team needed plays so I just tried to step up and make plays.”
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“We all know he’s a player,” said senior defensive back Ken’darius Fredrick. “He really showed up today for us.”
Earlier in the week, South Pointe offensive coordinator Jason McManus saw a weakness in Hartsville’s secondary that he liked on what would be Gilmore Jr.’s side of the field. They tested their theory early in the second quarter when Gilmore Jr. raced past his defender and under a missile from QB Derion Kendrick for a 54-yard touchdown.
“We had a matchup at corner that we thought we could take advantage of,” he said. “One good thing about what we do, it could be anybody’s night and it’s been that way all year. It was just his night and he made some great plays in one-on-one matchups, and his athletic ability took over.”
Second quarter defensive adjustment critical for South Pointe D
South Pointe held Hartsville to 95 yards rushing in the 2014 championship game, but the Red Foxes had almost as many - 80 - on the first drive Saturday. Tiyon Evans ripped off a 52-yard TD run on the speed sweep play and Hartsville was in front.
“You make one misread with their offense and they’re probably gonna take it,” said Fredrick, the senior safety who finished with nine tackles. “We just had to calm ourselves down.”
“It’s just so hard to get a look at that speed sweep in practice,” said Stallion defensive coordinator Jason Winstead. “You just don’t see the speed of it and unfortunately, the first time we saw it live it went the distance. But we adjusted. They played well, I’m real proud of them.”
The key? More men in the second level to go with standout linebackers Bryson Cooper and Cort Neely, who combined for 23 tackles in their last games for the Stallions.
“We put more speed on the field,” said Winstead. “We took a lineman off and went to a three-man front.”
Four in a row?
South Pointe should start the 2017 season as the top-ranked team in 4A football. Strait Herron’s program returns a slew of 10th and 11th graders, including some of the team’s best players. Consider this: 45 of South Pointe’s 51 points on Saturday were scored by juniors.
“Stay humble, stay hungry and hopefully we’ll be back here next year,” McManus said.
James Clair’s participation and captaincy
Hartsville wingback James Clair was arrested and charged with marijauna possession on Thursday morning, but allowed to play Saturday. Not only did he play, Clair was a game captain and walked out for the coin toss. He also carried the ball eight times in the game.
When asked about Clair’s participation and involvement as a captain, Hartsville coach Jeff Calabrese said “no comment.”