The Sumter High School football team found itself in quite the pickle 3 minutes into the second quarter of its homecoming game against Carolina Forest on Friday at Sumter Memorial Stadium.
Not only were the Gamecocks trailing 14-7, but CF had them pinned at their 1-yard line following a punt. SHS' response to that situation turned the contest in its favor.
Sumter held on to the ball for 13 plays and though it didn't score on that possession, it set up a scoring drive just before halftime in which it took a 15-14 lead into halftime.
The Gamecocks never trailed again and went on to a hard-fought 29-20 victory.
"We thought we were going to have a 99-yard scoring drive there, but that didn't happen," said Gamecock head coach Mark Barnes, whose team improved to 7-1 overall and 3-0 in Region VI-5A. "We were able to flip the field, get the ball back and score then and get the 2-point conversion when (the Panthers) got the penalty."
On the first play from the 1, SHS was stopped for no gain. However, quarterback Zykiem Jackson connected with wide receiver Jalen Rouse for a 6-yard gain and ran five yards for a first down at the 12. Running back Jonathan Henry then broke off a 20-yard to give Sumter some breathing room.
The drive finally stalled at the Carolina Forest 40, but Dyson Roberts' punt left CF starting at ifs 4-yard line with 2:16 remaining in the first half. The Panthers could manage only three yards and threw an incomplete pass to save the Gamecocks from using a timeout.
SHS started at the Carolina Forest 48 with 1:15 to go following a punt. After an incompletion, Jackson ran a draw for a first down and a 10-yard penalty on the play moved the ball to the 24. A shovel pass to wide receiver Anthony Dinkins-McCall went for 17 yards. Jackson had a 2-yard run before going in from five yards out for the score with 13 seconds left.
A horse collar penalty on the TD run allowed Sumter to move the ball to the 2 on the conversion play. SHS went with its heavy package and running back Da'jon Butts banged his way end for the two points and a 15-14 halftime lead.
"That was just huge for us to score there just before halftime and then get the 2-point conversion as well," Barnes said. "That penalty set us up."
The Gamecocks received the second-half kickoff, but went three downs and out. However, a bad pitch by quarterback Matt Beale on the Panthers' first place ended up on the ground with SHS recovering at the CF 29.
On second down, Jackson broke off a 27-yard scoring run. Roman Childers' extra point made it 22-14 with 9:14 left in the third quarter.
Sumter held that lead until a third of the way in to the fourth quarter. Carolina Forest, which fell to 5-3 and 2-1, put together a 12-play, 64-yard drive that ended with Beale running five yards for the score with 7:46 left.
CF went for two but failed, leaving the score at 22-20.
As it did at the end of the first half, Sumter responded in grand fashion. After picking up a first down at the SHS 46 in two plays, Butts broke a tackle and rambled for a 54-yard scoring run. Childers added the extra point to make it 29-20 with 6:21 left in the game.
Barnes didn't think his team played its best game, but he gave a lot of credit to Carolina Forest.
"I don't think the offense or the defense played its best game for us, but you have to give them a lot of credit," Barnes said of the Panthers, who fell to 5-3 overall and 2-1 in the region. "They like to control the football and shorten the game, and they did a good job of that. While we may not have played our best, this was a good win for us."
Sumter will play host to Conway on Friday with the region title and the No. 1 seed in the state playoffs on the line. The Tigers defeated South Florence 62-14 to improve to 8-1 and 3-0 as well.
"I don't think our team was looking forward (to Conway)," Barnes said. "You have to give Carolina Forest credit. Now we get to turn our attention to this game."