DARLINGTON — In a game that closed with both coaches agreeing to call the game with 1:16 remaining as an injured Darlington High School player received extended medical attention near the visitors' sidelines, Crestwood overcame a sluggish first half to pull away from Darlington for a 26-0 win on Friday to open Region VI-4A play.
On a night when the Falcons were celebrating homecoming at the Falcons' Nest, Darlington defensive end Anthony Evans was carried from the field on a stretcher, though he was not believed to have sustained serious injury. Evans received extended attention from medical personnel from both sidelines and EMT personnel on hand and was taken to a local medical facility as a precautionary measure.
Crestwood led 7-0 at halftime, with its one score coming on a 9-play, 73-yard drive.
Struggling to move the ball on the ground early, it was two aerial connections between quarterback Anthony Bradley and wide receiver Joshua Simon that got the Knights into the end zone. The first was a 45-yard play that moved the ball to the Darlington 23, but the second would not come until after a Crestwood timeout. Facing fourth down and five yards to go from the 18, head coach Roosevelt Nelson and staff dialed up the perfect play call as Bradley found Simon wide open in the middle of the end zone for a one-handed grab and score. A Gavyn Zimmerman PAT kick gave Crestwood a 7-0 lead with 6:38 to go in the opening quarter.
The Knights put the ball on the ground twice in the opening half, losing one, and Crestwood was also flagged for an ineligible receiver penalty that negated what would have been a 40-yard gain on another Bradley-to-Simon hookup. The Falcons had a turnover on a Crestwood punt that was recovered by the Knights after it hit a Darlington player. Had they held possession on the exchange, the Falcons would have started at the Crestwood 38.
"We went in at halftime, made a couple of adjustments and challenged the kids," said Nelson, whose team advanced to 4-3 overall. "We challenged all three units -- offense, defense and special teams -- to definitely pick up their intensity. I think defensive wise we played pretty well from the start to the finish of the game. We had a few busts, very minimal, and I think defense carried us the majority of the game."
The second half saw the Knights put up two touchdowns, a field goal and a safety, with defensive back Nyjeil Lindsay snagging two interceptions to set up one of the touchdowns and the field goal.
Darlington's best scoring opportunity of the night came early in the second half. Taking the opening kickoff at their 36, the Falcons found some success on the ground and benefited from a few Crestwood penalties, including a pass interference that resulted in a third-down conversion. Backup quarterback Silas Barr, who came on for injured starter Brian Robinson in the second quarter, hit Jordan English for a 20-yard gain to the 15. After a 5-yard loss on a screen pass from Barr to running back Dontae Jackson, Henrique Pedro was wide left on a 37-yard field goal attempt.
Four plays later, Bradley turned the ball over with a pass that Tyler Harrison intercepted. Darlington took over at its 38, but Lindsay was about to make his first big interception of the night. On a third-and-8, Lindsay stepped in front of a Barr pass, caught the ball in stride and weaved his way down the field for a 40-yard return to the Falcon 12. A 4-yard Damontae Furman run and a half-the distance penalty against Darlington set up a third-and-2 at the 4. Furman was a yard short on a third-down run but Bradley would run it in from three yards out on fourth down, making it 14-0 with 4:56 left in the third quarter.
The Falcons seemed to have something going again, with Javorius Williams rushing 16 yards to the Crestwood 46, but Lindsay showed his first INT was no fluke by making it back-to-back possessions with a pick.
The Knights took over at their 35 and took just five plays to get to the Falcon 2. Bradley and Sheddrick Ervin connected for 42 yards to the 22 and Bradley ran for 17 yards to the 4, with a defensive penalty pushing it on up to the 2.
Crestwood went into reverse on two runs, followed by an incomplete pass. After taking a 5-yard delay penalty, Zimmerman was called on for a 31-yard field goal that stretched the lead to 17-0 with 11:32 to go in the contest.
A Javarius Bradley punt pinned the Falcons deep at their own 10, leading to a safety as Pedro stepped on the back line while trying to get off a punt deep in his own end zone. Taking over at the Darlington 33 after the ensuing kickoff, runs of 23 yards by Furman and 19 yards by Anthony Bradley set up a 1-yard Furman run for the final score of the night.
"We made two big plays in the special teams game," Nelson said. "Our young kicker kicked close to a 30-yarder right there on the field goal, so that was good for Gavyn Zimmerman, and then we were able to get some ground game going. That kind of helped us to open up the passing game. Hats off to the defensive side of the ball. They played extremely well from start to finish. The offense made the plays to get some points on the board."
Though Darlington fell to 1-6 overall while dropping its region opener, Nelson respected the effort the Falcons put forth.
"Darlington has definitely got a good team," Nelson said. "They fought us tooth and nail for three solid quarters, so that's definitely something we've got to look into. Hats off to Darlington for a good job, and (former Sumter head) coach John (Jones) always gets a lot out of his guys. In conference play it's not about how pretty it is, but it's about getting the 'W' and moving on."
The Knights look to improve on their 1-0 region record with a trip to Lugoff-Elgin on Friday.