COLUMBIA - Laurence Manning Academy will play for the SCISA 3A football state championship.
The Swampcats punched their ticket to Saturday's championship game at Benedict College's Charlie W. Johnson Stadium with a 43-40 victory over defending state champion Ben Lippen on Friday at the BL field.
Laurence Manning built a 43-26 lead in the fourth quarter of the rematch of the Falcons' 26-23 regular-season win and held on for the win, surviving two late Falcon scores and getting a key fourth-quarter first down that enabled it to kill the clock.
LMA enters the championship game with a 10-2 record on the season. They'll face 11-0 Hammond, which defeated Porter-Gaud 42-14 on Friday to advance. Hammond beat the 'Cats 35-21 in their regular-season meeting.
"I"m so proud of the kids; they fought their tails off," said LMA head coach Robbie Briggs, in his fifth season at the helm. "These guys have been together for four years, and I'm just really proud of our effort. We kept our poise at the end and everybody contributed.
"I'm proud of the organization. We needed a win like this," Briggs said. "We're a young football team, and we needed a win like this."
The 43 points scored were a marked contrast to the Swampcats' last two outings, a pair of hard-fought wins over Wilson Hall, a 14-13 last-second win at Spencer Field in Sumter and a 20-14 overtime thriller last week in Manning in a first-round game. Briggs said he felt the difference was his team's ability to execute its plan.
"We felt like we could do some things against them," Briggs said. "We had an idea of what they were going to do defensively. Last game, they kind of surprised us with some looks, but our kids had a good week of practice and responded well.
The game had the makings of a shootout, with each team scoring touchdowns on three of their first five possessions. The Swampcats got a defensive stop and finished the first half with an 11-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a 19-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Taylor Lee, who also had a 65-yard touchdown catch and run to open the Swampcats' scoring. Brewer Brunson's 2-point conversion dive gave LMA a 28-20 halftime lead.
Brunson had two touchdowns of his own, scoring on runs of one and eight yards. Burgess Jordan added a 1-yard scoring dive, and Wyatt Rowland had a 17-yard touchdown reception.
The Falcons cut the lead to 28-26 with a methodical touchdown on their first possession of the second half, but their 2-point conversion attempt failed. Laurence Manning answered with a 13-play drive capped by Brunson's 3-yard plunge, and Jackson Lee's point-after kick made it 35-26.
A big defensive stop on Ben Lippen's next series gave LMA the ball near midfield as the third quarter drew to a close. The 'Cats drive ate up nearly four minutes of the fourth stanza before Burgess Jordan dove in from the 1-yard line, and another successful 2-point conversion made it 43-26 with just over eight minutes remaining.
"We were balanced," Briggs said. "Everybody contributed, and we're thankful for the win and happy for the organization. We'll just go back to work tonight."