Don’t pinch the Cyclones. Chester’s dream isn’t over.
The Cyclones moved to 14-0 with a 21-14 win over Union County, advancing Victor Floyd’s team to the 3A state title football game next Saturday, Dec. 8 at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.
So why was the Cyclones’ chief trench hog, 6-foot-6, 275-pound Wyatt Tunall, bawling his eyes out?
“Tears of joy,” he managed to say. “All of the hard work finally paid off. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
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Chester scored last in a game between two evenly matched squads. They traded touchdowns, punts, turnovers, fourth down stops, but the host Yellow Jackets finally ran out of plays they could match late in the fourth quarter.
Zan Dunham’s 5-yard TD run — his offensive line buried the left side of Union County’s defense — put Chester in front with less than three minutes to play, and the Cyclones’ defense walled off the end zone on the other end, forcing a turnover on downs to send the large pack of traveling Chester fans into delirium.
For Chester coach Victor Floyd, the winning ingredients were simple, the same ones his Cyclones have called on all season.
“Sheer determination and heart,” said Floyd.
Chester returns to the state championship game for the first time since 2008. Floyd will lead the Cyclones in a state title game for the second time after coaching Chester’s 2007 squad to the final, only to lose to Wilson, 14-12. Chester also beat Union County in the Upper State championship game that season.
“Coach told us back in February that we could be a special group if we just believed in the plan,” said junior defensive tackle Quay Evans. “We executed the plan, man.”
This time, Chester will face Lower State juggernaut Dillon, which squeaked past Wade Hampton 18-13. The Wildcats are playing in their seventh state title game in a row.
The game was so even that the turning point really didn’t happen until Union County’s last possession. After the Cyclones took a 21-14 lead with 2 minutes, 52 seconds left, Yellow Jackets QB Kesean Glover put the fear right back into the visitors with a 30-yard run into Chester turf. But from there, Floyd’s defense stood tall, forcing a turnover on downs that sealed the win.
Chester’s defense, especially up front, was excellent. Union County had to work for every yard it earned and the Cyclones heavily limited the Yellow Jackets’ big plays. When they did score, it was after prolonged drives that drained time off the clock and shortened the game even more (the first half only lasted 43 minutes). Chester gang-tackled Union County players and never seemed to tire.
“It’s become second nature to us,” said Evans. “Everybody, all 11 hats to the football. The coaches always are preaching it to us.”
Without having defensive stats handy, the Cyclones’ three starting defensive linemen -- Teddy Murphy, Twan Patton and Evans -- were hugely effective. Stan Mills was one of a number of players that contributed on both sides of the ball; he had at least one tackle-for-loss and a 12-yard TD grab.
Pha’Leak Brown topped 100 yards rushing for the seventh straight game, and Dunham, despite throwing an ill-advised interception, threw a TD pass and ran in two more scores, including the game-winner. Hard to remember he’s just a ninth grader.
“He did great,” said Tunall. “I can’t wait to see how he turns out. He’s gonna be one of the best around.”
Chester;0;7;7;7 - 21
Union Co.;0;7;7;0 - 14
UCHS - Keion Glover 3 run (kick good), 5:01
CHS - Stan Mills 12 pass from Zan Dunham (kick good), 0:45
CHS - Dunham 3 run (kick good), 4:08
UCHS - Kesean Glover 3 run (kick good), 0:46
CHS - Dunham 5 run (kick good), 2:52