The feeling of losing in last season's Class-AAA state championship to Myrtle Beach is still a fresh wound to many on the current South Pointe roster.
That pain served as added motivation as the Stallions opened their upper state title defense with an emphatic 41-7 victory over Union County in the opening round at The District Three South Stadium.
The Stallions blended a methodic offense, stingy defense, and electrifying special-teams play to erase an early 7-0 deficit.
South Pointe yielded only 195 yards of total offense: 90 rushing and 105 passing, while offensively compiling 330 total with 193 rushing and 137 passing.
Quarterback Devin Pearson completed nine passes for 137 yards and three touchdowns while using his quick feet to account for two more scores. Receiver JaRyan Jennings caught three passes for 84 yards, with all three going to the end zone.
South Pointe seniors Tay Hicklin and Corey Neeley were both at Williams Brice Stadium and suffered through last season's state championship loss.
Both said that immediately after the contest, the seniors made a pact to return to the title game. They remembered that promise with the beginning of this year's playoffs.
"That is a goal of ours every year," Hicklin said of winning the state title. "And tonight, this was a good win for us; however, we know that we are not going to stop here."
Neeley, who dazzled the fans with a 60-yard punt return, echoed those thoughts.
"We are definitely motivated to get back," he said. "We want to win what we were not able to get last year. As seniors, we want to step it up and motivate our team."
On the punt return, Neeley reversed field twice, running to the left sideline, then reversing to the right, and finally, coming back toward the left sideline while setting up crunching blocks against the Union County defenders.
Neeley actually ran close to 150 yards all told while officially going 60 yards for the score, which gave the Stallions a 41-7 lead late in the third quarter.
South Pointe (11-1) will meet Greenville in the second round next week at District-Three South Stadium.
Union County ends the season at 4-7.
SOUTH POINTE 41,
UNION COUNTY 7
UC -- Keiston Smith 33-yard pass to Kalay Jones (Brandon Shetley kick)
SP -- Devin Pearson 10-yard run (Malik Jamerson run)
SP -- Pearson 11-yard pass to JaRyan Jennings (kick failed)
SP -- Pearson 20-yard pass to Jennings (run failed)
SP -- Pearson 7-yard run (Logan Ard kick)
SP - Pearson 53-yard pass to Jennings (Ard kick)
SP -- Corey Neeley 60-yard punt return (Ard kick)
RUSHING -- South Pointe: Devin Pearson 8-52, Brandan Barber 10-64, Manzey Miller 9-65, Josh Brice 8-26, Devion Williams 1-(-14). Union Cty: Avion Carter 2-5, Trayvon Davis 15-67, Chris Booker 2-(-9), Keiston Smith 2-9, Dakota Ivester 9-9, Adrian Brown 4-9.
PASSING -- Union Cty: Adam Gregory 5-6-0-51, Keiston Smith 2-9-0-35, Dakota Ivester 4-13-1-18. South Pointe: Devan Pearson .
RECEIVING -- Union Cty: Derrick Good 1-9, Michael Edwards 2-9, Chris Booker 5-51, Kalay Jones 1-33, Trayvon Davis 1-3. South Pointe: Manzey Miller 1-3, Montay Crockett 4-44, JaRyan Jennings 3-84, LaKeenan Scruggs 1-6.
RECORDS -- Union County 4-7, South Pointe 10-1.