BISHOPVILLE -- With big challenges come big opportunities, and the Lee Central varsity football team had both on Friday at Stallion Stadium.
The home team hosted 7-1 Cheraw, perennially one of the state's best teams in its classification, with a chance to solidify its hold on the top spot in Region IV-2A, and the Stallions rose to the occasion, posting a 14-7 homecoming victory before a packed house to improve to 9-1, 5-1 in region play. The loss dropped the Braves to 7-2 overall and 4-1 in region.
"I don't know what it is about Chesterfield County, but the teams down there play extremely hard for four quarters," said Lee Central head coach Justin Danner. "If you're not prepared to play four quarters against the Cheraws, the Pagelands, the Chesterfields and those kind of guys, you're going to end up on the wrong end of the stick.
"We've really been challenging our guys to play hard for four quarters," Danner said. "We didn't say it was going to be pretty and we didn't say it would be perfect, but we just asked them to play four quarters and let's see what happens and they did that tonight. We're extremely proud of them."
The game was won in the trenches on a sloppy playing field, with Lee Central's running game doubling Cheraw's output and accounting for both touchdowns. The first came on a 25-yard run by Demetrius Dubose near the end of the first quarter.
After a 14-play Cheraw drive fizzled out on fourth down at the Stallions' 28-yard line, Lee Central worked to near midfield before a 16-yard run by Naquan Peeples got the ball into Braves territory, and a penalty set the Stallions up at the 25-yard line, and Moses cruised to the end zone on the very next play. The point-after kick by Ti'juan Durant made it 7-0.
The teams traded punts until midway through the third quarter, when a high snap on a Cheraw punt set up the Stallions with a short field, at the Braves' 24-yard line. Six plays later, Shamari Simon plunged into paydirt from three yards out, and Durant's kick made it 14-0 Stallions.
Cheraw, averaging more than 44 points per game on offense going into Friday's showdown, wasn't quite ready to quit, however, and finally got on the board early in the fourth quarter when quarterback Quan Pittman hooked up with wide receiver Jalen Coit on a 40-yard touchdown pass, and the point-after kick cut the Stallions' lead to seven.
The Lee Central defense stood tall, however, snuffing out Cheraw's next drive with a sack on third down and forcing a fumble on the Braves' next possession. Penalties kept the Stallions from putting it away, and Cheraw mounted a two-minute drive that pushed the ball all the way to the Lee Central 5-yard line. A pair of penalties against the Braves set it back to the 20, the first of them negating an apparent touchdown pass. With no timeouts remaining, Cheraw pushed the ball to the Lee Central 4-yard line, but a pass attempt fell incomplete on fourth down as time expired, sending the home crowd into a wild celebration.
"Our defense has played great. Their preparation is phenomenal," Danner said. "Our guys really buy into it and we really hang our hats on trying to be a defensive football team. And we run the ball. Heck, that's what we try to do is play defense and grind it out.
"It wasn't what we liked offensively tonight, but that's a very tough Cheraw football team over there, and you're not just going to come out here and run for three or four hundred yards," he said. "But if we can just kind of keep big momentum away from them and try to flip the field on defense, that's what we're after. We just didn't want to beat ourselves tonight."
Dubose led the offensive attack with 66 yards rushing and a touchdown. On defense, Allen McMillian had 10 tackles and a sack. Deontae Lowery added 8 tackles and 2 sacks, Travis Hickson and Shileake Albert both had 8 tackles and Corey King added 7 tackles and 2 sacks. The Stallions completed only one pass in three attempts for 27 yards, with one interception.
Cheraw was 9-of-26 passing for 144 yards and a score and rushed 32 times for only 63 yards.
Lee Central finishes out its regular season campaign next week with a visit to Andrew Jackson High in Kershaw. The Volunteers were 3-4 overall and 1-2 in region play heading into Friday's game against Chesterfield.
"They beat us a year ago, and it's still a game that we know we have to come in ready to play," Danner said of Andrew Jackson. "They're a little younger than they were a year ago, but they still have some really good football players and they're still really well coached. So we know our hands will be full.
"We're going to enjoy this win, but we're going to ready to go back to work on Sunday.