FLORENCE – Making their second straight trip to War Memorial Stadium as a homecoming foe, the Sumter High School football team was looking for a better performance following the halftime festivities.
After jumping out to a 24-7 halftime lead against South Florence in last week’s contest, the Gamecocks managed to win 31-20, not necessarily the style in which head coach Mark Barnes preferred.
On Friday against West Florence, SHS took a 27-6 lead into the locker room. After all the queens were crowned, Sumter posted 17 more points and held the Knights scoreless in a 44-6 victory.
“We definitely played with a lot more energy and enthusiasm tonight,” said Barnes, whose team improved to 6-1 overall and 2-0 in Region VI-5A. “We made a few mistakes here and there, but we came out and played well and we maintained it.”
The Gamecocks were strong on by both sides of the football. Offensively, they rolled up 492 yards of total offense, passing for 252 and running for 240. Defensively, they limited the Knights to 135 yards, including just nine rushing yards on 28 attempts.
“We were very focused coming into this game,” said SHS linebacker Cooper Mota, who had an interception in the second half to kill a WF drive. “We wanted to take control of the game and not let them back in it, and we did that.”
Sumter completely took away West Florence’s main offensive threat, running back Ailym Ford. He came into the contest with 941 yards and eight touchdowns on 121 carries. He finished with 19 yards on 14 carries, being held to minus 10 yards on 11 carries in the first half.
“We made a point to take him out of the game,” Barnes said of Ford, who had at least 100 yards in five of West Florence’s first six games, finishing with 92 in the lone game he did not. “That opened up a big night for a wide receiver (Nick Johnson with 10 catches for 85 yards), but we did a good job tackling him (in space).”
It didn’t take Sumter long to get on the scoreboard. After forcing the Knights to punt after three plays on the game’s first possession, running back Jonathan Henry took a perfect option pitch from quarterback Zykiem Jackson and went 61 yards for the touchdown. Roman Childers added the extra point to make it 7-0 with 8:21 remaining in the first quarter.
Then it was time for Jackson to take over throwing the ball. The senior completed nine of 12 passes for 236 yards and four touchdowns while rushing 12 times for 37 yards.
Jackson led Sumter on a 7-play, 51 yard drive, tossing one in the corner of the end zone that wide receiver Keshawn Croskey went up and grabbed for a 27-yard TD pass with 26 seconds left in the first quarter.
Jackson’s second scoring pass had to do more with getting the ball in the right player’s hands. With the Gamecocks backed up at their 10-yard line, Jackson threw one in the flat to wide Anthony Dinkins-McCall around the line of scrimmage. He slipped one defender and used a block by a fellow wide receiver and took off for a 90-yard touchdown pass to make 20-0 with 8:49 left in the first half.
“We were just taking what they were giving us,” Barnes said. “We did a good job passing the football. We’ve got a better group of receivers that a lot of people believe. We’ve got lots of speed.”
Henry scored on a 16-yard run late in the first half to make it 27-0. Henry had nine carries for 144 yards and two scores.
The Knights, who fell to 1-6 and 0-2, scored with 55 seconds left in the first half on a five-yard reception by Johnson from reserve quarterback Hale Emerson to make the halftime score 27-6.
Sumter received the second-half kickoff and went 80 yards in seven plays. Jackson threw a 9-yard scoring pass to wide receiver Jalen Rouse.
The next time the Gamecocks got the ball, Jackson hit Dinkins-McCall on a slant for a 49-yard TD pass to make it 41-6.
McCall had three catches for 159 yards and two scores, while Rouse had six catches for 67 yards.
A 24-yard field goal by Childers in the final quarter accounted for SHS’ final points.