WINNSBORO -- Chester quarterback Gene McCaskill has certainly had to deal with adversity the past two weeks. The Cyclone senior lost all of his possessions in a house fire, which completely destroyed the dwelling on Oct. 17.
The final drive of Saturday's Region 3-AAA showdown against Fairfield Central does not compare to the personal tragedy of McCaskill and his family.
But the Cyclone quarterback once again met adversity head-on with a fourth-and-one at the Fairfield Central 7-yard line with 38 seconds remaining, no timeouts and Chester trailing by two, 26-24.
Needing 1 yard for the first, McCaskill rolled out to his right on a run-pass option. However, he was met by two Griffin defenders, with one pulling him down by the collar for what would have been a 2-yard loss and a Fairfield Central victory.
Somehow, McCaskill maintained his cool and found enough strength to fire a perfect pass to a wide-open Jeremy Hughes in the corner of the end zone for the 32-26 Cyclone victory.
"It was a zone read," said an emotionally exhausted McCaskill. "I was grabbed from the back, but I still knew where all of my receivers were. We work on that play all the time, especially when we go over our 2-minute drill. I knew he (Hughes) was there."
The victory gives Chester the Region 3-AAA championship, the school's first since the 1997 season, and home-field advantage for at least the first three rounds of the Class AAA state playoffs.
McCaskill, who verbally committed to play wide receiver next season at Kentucky, had just put Chester on top, 24-19, with a 37-yard run with 5:46 remaining. However, the momentum quickly swung back to Fairfield Central on the ensuing kickoff.
Marcus Byrd returned the kick to the 38-yard line, but the ball popped out of his hands on a fumble and into the arms of Greg Gadsden, who kept his stride and ran the remaining 62 yards for the bizarre touchdown.
Trailing 26-24, the stage was then set for McCaskill, who accounted for every yard on the 77-yard march, which began at the Chester 23 with 5:30 remaining. He rushed six straight times for 41 yards to the Griffin 36 before firing two completions to Devin Jackson and Hughes to the 15-yard line with less than two minutes remaining.
McCaskill ran 8 more yards on the next three plays to the 7-yard line before a timeout was signaled with 40 seconds remaining. The Griffin defenders were waiting for McCaskill on the fourth-down run attempt, but the Cyclone quarterback had the sudden presence to find Hughes for the 7-yard scoring pass while being dragged down from behind.
"He is able to deal with adversity," Cyclone coach Victor Floyd said. "When you are faced with adversity, you have to show strength in character. Gene is a prime example of that."
McCaskill ran for 133 for the 355 Cyclone rushing yards and completed 8-of-8 passes for 77 yards and two touchdowns.
Chester, 8-2 and 5-1 in Region 3-AAA, will open Class AAA state playoff action this Friday night with a home game against Seneca.
Chester 8 8 0 16 -- 32
Fairfield Central 0 12 0 14 -- 26
F. Central 26