By EDDIE LITAKER
Special to The Sumter Item
BISHOPVILLE -- Lee Central High School’s defense forced five turnovers and Demetrius Dubose scored two touchdowns as the Stallions advanced to the 2A quarterfinals with a 21-14 win over Southside Christian on Friday.
With the win, Lee Central will travel to face Saluda, a 28-14 winner over Ninety Six, on Friday..
"The defense has been setting the tone for us all year," said Lee Central head coach Justin Danner, whose team ran its record to 11-1. "That's something that we've talked about just coming into this ball game, that we still hang our hats on what this team is surrounded around defense. Everybody likes the big points and all of that fancy stuff, but we count on our defense to set us up with good field position and give us a chance to be able to walk a short field."
That's exactly what happened early as the Sabres coughed up the ball on the second play of the game, with the Stallion D handing the ball to the offense at the SC 40. A 12-yard Naquan Peeples run set up Dubose's first score of the night, a 28-yard run that put LC up 7-0 before many had even entered the stadium.
SC would tie the game shortly after as quarterback J.W. Hertzberg led a 3-play, 70-yard drive. The drive essentially consisted of two long passes, with a 35-yarder to Lucas Raber accounting for half the yardage and Jake Kimmelman hauling in the scoring pass for the other 35 yards, making the score 7-7 with 6:29 left in the opening quarter.
In a sign of things to come, LC later commenced to run 5:36 off the clock with a 13-play, 89-yard drive that carried over into the second quarter. Unfortunately for the Stallions, the drive began at their 10 and ended at the SC 1. The big play was a 62-yard Dubose run that advanced the ball to the Sabres' 25. After a breather, Dubose reentered on a fourth-and-3 and gained four to the 14. Dubose would run it on five of the next six plays, coming up just short on a third-and-goal from the 1. Owen Lewis would get the call on fourth down, but the Sabre defense was up to the task as Lewis was stopped short of the goal line.
SC worked out of the shadow of its own goal post and got out to the 38 before the Stallion defense struck again. After running back Mallory Pinkney caught a Hertzberg pass and gained what would have been first down yardage, Derrick Joye came out with the ball and raced down the far sidelines for 34 yards to the SC 13.
Three plays later, LC had its second touchdown of the night following a Sabres turnover. Deondraye Moses ran for three yards on first down before Dubose broke off a 7-yard run to set up a first-and-goal. Quarterback Ti'juan Durant took it in from the 3 on the next play, making the score 14-7 with 5:07 left in the half.
The Sabres took over at their 20 after the ensuing kickoff and managed one first down before LC's swarming secondary struck. Rolling back to pass on a second-and-10, Hertzberg launched a pass that Stallion defensive back Ty'Andre Cousar hauled in and returned seven yards to the SC 39.
LC could not manage a first down from there, but Jaquaze Myers pinned the Sabres at their 5 with a 31-yard punt that hit along the near sidelines and trickled out of bounds. With 1:57 left in the half, Hertzberg took SC down the field for an improbable 9-play, 95-yard drive that ended with 4.8 seconds on the clock. Jacob Najmabadi started the drive with a 23-yard run and two catches for 22 yards to get the ball to midfield. From there, Hertzberg would complete two passes to Kimmelman to advance to the 32 with 23.2 seconds left in the half. A pass interference call put the ball at the 17 and Hertzberg went back to Kimmelman for the score on the next play.
LC came out of the locker room and went on the drive of the night after taking the ball at its 30 following the second half kickoff. Staying almost exclusively with the run game, the Stallions ran 15 plays and took nearly eight minutes off the clock before Dubose capped the epic drive with a 1-yard scoring run. Dubose, Moses and Peeples all handled the ball on the drive ran the ball on the drive, with a long run of 13 yards coming on Peeples' lone touch. Moses ran seven times for 22 yards while Dubose gained a hard-fought 10 yards on his four touches. Durant also completed his only two passes of the night, both to Dayrice Austin, with a 3-yarder setting up a fourth-and-6 and a 17-yard completion converting the fourth down and getting the ball to the SC 18.
"I looked up at the clock and I said, 'Man, we don't have nothing but a few minutes left in the third quarter,' but that was a championship drive coming out of halftime," Danner said of the eventual winning drive that ended with 4:06 on the third-quarter clock. "Our kids had to realize that it isn't always pretty, and if you want to win you've got to go take it. I felt like with that third-quarter drive, we took the life out of them."
The defense would come away with two more interceptions, by Deablo Hally and DeAndre Oliver, to hold off the Sabres in the final quarter.
"That's (a tough game) what we thought we'd get coming in here," Danner said of facing the Region II runner-up Sabres, who closed their season at 10-2. "They had seen a Wing-T team during the year and we knew they'd be better this go-around with (defending) it, and they were tonight. Hats off to them. They were well coached, they played hard, their kids played very hard late in the football game where a lot of times teams get worn down. They wanted to win tonight just as bad as we did, so our hats off to them again and we're just happy to get out of here with a win."
The Stallions, led by Dubose's 149 yards on 19 carries, closed the night with 312 yards rushing on 63 attempts.