Two teams with four state championship appearances in the past three years played their parts on Friday.
The Central Eagles, however, took advantage of a late Chester mishap to come away with a 36-28 win. Central (3-0) snuffed a fake-punt attempt with 2:53 remaining before marching six plays for the game-winning touchdown.
Jawon Henderson hit Juwan Funderburk for a 19-yard score with 43 seconds remaining, and Chester (3-1) took its first loss of the season.
"Good things don't come easy to championship teams," Chester coach Anthony Sterling said. "Obviously the outcome wasn't pleasing, but we'll continue to hold our heads up high."
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The contrast in styles stood out in the first half. Central rushed for 168 yards behind its wishbone attack. Quarterback Tony McNeal, a Clemson commitment, answered with 226 passing yards in Chester's shotgun-spread attack.
The Eagles opened the game with a 12-play, 62-yard drive capped by a 5-yard run by Radford Robinson that swallowed 5:27.
Chester answered in less than two minutes. McNeal and Deon Strong connected on a 55-yard screen that set up a 2-yard touchdown to Derrick Woods.
Central built an 18-7 lead after touchdown runs by Robinson and Mardu Smith, the second coming after a Chester fumble.
The Cyclones took over with 1:45 left in the first quarter, and McNeal engineered another lightning-quick drive. Chester marched 64 yards in seven plays, and McNeal zipped a 2-yard touchdown Deterrion Hardin on the final play of the quarter. Chester trailed 18-14 despite giving up 152 rushing yards in the first quarter.
The Eagles finally committed a miscue in the second quarter with a fumble deep in Cyclones territory. McNeal lofted a perfect pass to a streaking Brent Minter three plays later for a 55-yard touchdown and a 21-18 lead. Chester held that lead at intermission.
"We had a good rhythm going," Sterling said. "Tony was making audibles at the line, and he was able to make some plays."
Chester extended that lead to 28-18 after a 13-play drive to start the second half. Julius Pendergrass finished the march with a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal.
Central picked up a safety after a Chester punt snapped went out of the end zone, and the Eagles tied the score 11:32 remaining after a 1-yard score by De'Aja Blakeney and two-point conversion pass from Henderson to Funderburk.
Chester failed on the fake punt on the ensuing drive, and Central made the final margin with a last-second safety. The Cyclones won't have time to mope. Chester resumes play against Mallard Creek (Charlotte) next Friday.
"It's going to be a busy week, gentleman," Sterling said. "We have to get better."
CENTRAL 36, CHESTER 28
C - Radford Robinson 5 run (Kick failed)
CH- Derrick Woods 2 pass from Tony McNeal (Joey Ford kick)
C - Radford Robinson 62 run (Conversion failed)
C - Mardu Smith 19 run (Conversion failed)
CH- Deterrion Hardin 2 pass from McNeal (Ford kick)
CH- Brent Minter 55 pass from McNeal (Ford kick)
CH- Julius Pendergrass 1 run (Ford kick)
C- Safety (Ball snapped out of end zone)
C- De'aja Blakeney 1 run (Jawon Henderson pass to Juwan Funderburk)
C- Henderson 17 pass to Funderburk (Kick Failed)
C- Safety (McNeal tackled in end zone)
RUSHING - Chester: Pendergrass 5-6, Minter 3-5, McNeal 5-(-28). Central: Robinson 18-153, Smith 23-50, Henderson 3-10, Blakeney 8-34, Quentin Wallace 1-1, Rodney Kirkland 1-0.
PASSING - Chester: McNeal 23-42-0, 341 yards. Central: Henderson 5-8-0, 54 yards.
RECEIVING - Chester: Deon Strong 7-146, Tevin Worthy 6-85, Minter 4-75, Emery Frederick 1-21, Hardin 1-2, Woods 1-2, K.J. Dixon 1-(-5), Central: Robinson 2-21, Kirkland 1-13, Funderburk 1-19, Smith 1-1.
RECORDS: Chester 3-1, Central 3-0