The streak is over.
For the first time under third-year head coach Mark Barnes, the Sumter High School football team lost a region contest, falling to Conway 14-13 on Friday at Memorial Stadium's Freddie Solomon Field.
That snapped a 13-game region winning streak for SHS that included two undefeated region titles. And while Sumter could still grab a share of the Region VI-5A title with a win over Socastee and a Conway loss to Carolina Forest next Friday, the Tigers have wrapped up the region's No. 1 seed in the playoffs.
However, Barnes was far from an unhappy man after the game.
"I am so proud of this team for the way it battled the entire game," said Barnes, whose squad fell to 7-2 on the season and 3-1 in region play. "We played the entire game without two offensive linemen (left tackle Zion Nelson and right guard Kurt Lewis) and most of it without our quarterback (Zykiem Jackson), yet we were in there giving it all that we had."
Jackson, who leads Sumter in rushing as well as passing, is done for the year with a broken collarbone. He suffered the injury when he was sacked midway through the second quarter.
"Not only is he the leader of our offense, Zykiem is the leader of this team," Barnes said. "He is a winner, the best winner I've ever had in 29 years of coaching."
CHS, which improved to 8-1 and 4-0, opened the game as though it would make quick work of the Gamecocks. Conway scored on its first two possessions for a 14-0 lead with 5:13 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers, who were playing without leading rusher Antonio Long, received the opening kickoff. Rakim Bellamy took an inside handoff on the first play from scrimmage and raced 46 yards to the Sumter 22-yard line. Five plays later, running back Dalquawn Clark scored from a yard out. Will Smith added the extra point to make it 7-0 with 9:25 left in the first quarter.
The next time CHS had the ball, quarterback Darren Grainger looked as though he was going to run, but instead pulled up and threw to wide receiver Keimone Graham for a 69-yard touchdown pass.
"They had made some adjustments to what they do offensively," Barnes said. "They had been more of a power running team, but with their back out, they went back to more of what they used to do.
"They're coach (Carlton Terry) knew they were going to be without their top running back and they adjusted."
And so do Sumter. The Tigers had four more possessions in the first half and didn't get another first down.
"We were kind of able to catch our breath and see what they were doing," Barnes said. "I thought our defense played its best game of the year. They did a great job against a great offense."
SHS answered Conway's second score in quick fashion. An 18-yard run by running back Jonathan Henry, a 32-yarder by Jackson and an 18-yarder by running back Da'jon Butts had Sumter at the CHS 1. Two plays later, Butts scored on a 2-yard run. Roman Childers added the extra point to make it 14-7 with 3:31 left in the first quarter.
That would pretty much be the extent of SHS' offense. It had just one more first down the remainder of the game.
Adding to the frustration that Sumter was winning the field position battle in the first. After the touchdown, each of its next three possessions started in Conway territory.
The drives started at the 45, 35 and 32, respectively, thanks mainly to the punting of Dyson Roberts. He pinned Conway inside its 5 twice.
On the drive that started at the 32, Sumter was penalized for lining up offsides and holding before getting a play off.
"That was really frustrating that we couldn't score there," Barnes said. "Conway's great on defense, especially up front with their linebackers. Then we hurt ourselves with penalties."
SHS received the second-half kickoff and went three downs and out. Conway took over at its 20 and ran 12 plays before the drive stalled at the Sumter 5. Smith came on for a chip shot 23-yard field goal, but it was blocked by Jordan Gregg. The ball ricocheted to Tyrese Witherspoon, who caught it in the air at the Sumter 5 and went 95 yards for the touchdown. However, Childers' extra point was blocked, leading the score at 14-13 with 5:21 left in the third quarter.
Conway put together one more threat, but it was thwarted when Grainger was intercepted by defensive back Melvin Lundy.
Sumter couldn't do anything in the second half, running just 14 plays to 41 for the Tigers. Jackson's backup, Ontra Harvin, completed 3 of 7 passes for 20 yards.
"Ontra came in and did a good job under tough circumstances," Barnes said. "We're going to be OK with him because now we get to game plan around what he does well."