MANNING - Even if he had sat out the second half of Friday's SCISA 3A football game against Porter-Gaud, Laurence Manning Academy wide receiver Taylor Lee would have had a great stat line for the night.
Lee did play the second half and added a highlight-reel catch late that put the ball game away as the Swampcats solidified their hold on third place in 3A with a 47-28 win at Billy Chitwood Field.
Lee, who closed out his Senior Night with nine catches for 198 yards and three touchdowns, caught seven passes for 154 yards and two scores to help LMA to a 21-7 halftime lead. Lee's first-half scores came on passes of nine and 46 yards and accounted for the Swampcats' final two scores of the half. The second score saw Lee shake off a defender on what would have been a pass interference call and pull away to make the catch and stroll untouched into the end zone.
Lee's third score of the night came in truly spectacular fashion as the Swampcats held a 40-28 lead with time winding down. P-G had just called its last timeout at the 2:03 mark and LMA faced a fourth down and nine yards to go at the Cyclones 31-yard line. Quarterback Braydon Osteen went back to pass as Lee was fighting off double coverage near the goal line. As the two P-G defenders went for the interception, Lee split the defenders and hauled it in for the game's final score.
"He's just a special player," LMA head coach Robbie Briggs said of Lee. "I've coached a lot of players that have played at the highest level in the NFL and he, I don't want to oversell him but he's as good as I've ever had, pound for pound. Just a great kid, he's got great competitive spirit, no moment's too big for him and I think he's got a great future. He's just got to continue to get in the weight room and do all of those things."
The game started quick on both sides as scores were traded on the first three possessions. LMA took the opening kickoff and went 56 yards in nine plays, capped by a 2-yard Brewer Brunson run, but P-G answered with a deep return from Tobias Lafayette that set the ball at the Swampcats' 36. Two plays after an incomplete pass that initially appeared to be a fumble on the drive's opening play, Cyclone quarterback Andrew Thomas found Charles Hartsock wide open down the far sidelines for a 35-yard game-tying score.
After catching a 24-yard pass to help set up the first score, Lee caught three passes for 70 yards on a scoring drive of 12-plays, 76-yards and was responsible for 59 yards of a 4-play, 64-yard touchdown drive on two more receptions.
The Cyclones rallied in the third, taking advantage of a hard-luck interception thrown by Osteen on a ball that Grayson Dennis let squirt out of his grasp and into the waiting arms of Lafayette and a blocked punt deep in LMA territory. Thomas ran it in from two yards out to cap a 10-play, 34-yard drive that was aided by a questionable penalty call and ball placement on a fourth-and-10 from the 23. P-G came out of the penalty with a first-and-goal at the 9 and Thomas ran it in on a fourth-down play.
The blocked punt set up the Cyclone offense at the Swampcat 14 and Thomas hooked up with Hartsock on a third-down 13-yard pass for the game-tying score with 2:02 left in the third.
LMA retained the upper hand with a 12-play, 80-yard drive that included some fourth-down magic. The Swampcats reeled off four consecutive first downs -- on a 12-yard pass from Osteen to Wyatt Rowland, an 11-yard Rowland run, an 11-yard pass to Garrett Black and a 13-yard Rowland run -- before Osteen connected with Dennis on a 25-yard fourth-down scoring pass.
Thomas and Hartsock combined for another long Cyclone scoring play, with this one going for 56 yards, but Lee answered with a 64-yard kickoff return that put the ball at P-G's 28. A 13-yard pass to Lee set up a first-and-goal at the 2, with Rowland taking it in from the 1 two plays later. A missed PAT kick left the lead at six, 34-28, with 4:49 to go.
LMA's defense came up big in the fourth quarter, keeping the Cyclones, now 5-4 and 3-3, at bay with interceptions from Dalton Holcombe, Brunson and Jake Jordan. Brunson's pick set up a 33-yard Rowland run that pushed the lead to 40-28 before Lee's heroics on the final Swampcat touchdown. With his strong second-half effort, Rowland closed with nine rushes for 77 yards.
"I think there were about five plays in the gamethat they made and that we made that could have changed the outcome of the game," said Briggs, whose team stands at 7-2 overall and 4-2 in 3A play. "The kids played hard, they (Porter-Gaud) played really, really hard, their coaches do a great job. I'm just thankful to have a win on Senior Night, and I think the turnovers were a factor."
LMA travels to Sumter on Friday to close its regular season against archrival Wilson Hall.
"We work hard all year to play those guys," Briggs said of lining up against the Barons. "That's our rival, they've owned us in the past. We're gonna work, have a great week of practice, we'll go to work tonight, and we've got a lot of respect for their program. We've just got to continue to do the little things right and hopefully we'll get a win next week."