SUMMERTON — A 6-6 halftime deadlock gave way to essentially a track meet in the second half, with Scott's Branch High School running back Marquise Thomas doing just enough to help offset the exploits of Bethune-Bowman counterpart Makiah Simmons as the Eagles came away with an 18-12 homecoming win over the Mohawks on Friday at Spann Stadium.
Thomas and Simmons were fairly even at the break, with Simmons gaining 56 yards on seven carries while Thomas had 55 yards on nine carries. Thomas closed with 142 yards and a score, with long runs of 14, 16, and 27 yards. Simmons notched a 38-yard run early in the fourth quarter as part of a 178-yard rushing effort on 21 attempts. Simmons also had a 12-yard run, two 17-yard runs, an 18-yard touchdown scamper and a 31-yard run.
"He's (Thomas) tough, just like (number) 2 (Simmons)," SBHS head coach Wayne Farmer said. "They were battling against each other, and that's what they were looking at. They were playing against each other, and they both are good backs."
The opposing defenses controlled much of the first half, with the Mohawks putting up an early score and the Eagles punching it in just before halftime. Bethune-Bowman's score came on its second possession as the Mohawks converted a short-field opportunity after an 18-yard Thomas punt gave them the ball at the SB 45. A 17-yard Simmons run quickly moved the ball to the 28, helping to set up a 23-yard scoring strike from Braxton Wedgeworth to Tyshawn Starkes two plays later. A failed conversion pass attempt left the score at 6-0 with 6:25 on the first quarter clock.
SB failed to muster a first down on its first two possessions before finally moving the chains with a 14-yard Thomas run on its third series. The Eagles were presented with a short-field opportunity of their own after a defensive stop inside the Mohawks 20. However, despite taking over at the BB 36, SB could only manage the one first down before turning the ball back over on downs at the 23. Simmons' 31-yard run got the Mohawks to the Eagle 47 before SB's defense stiffened and forced a punt.
The Eagles took over at their 20 after Wedgeworth's punt rolled into the end zone. With 6:58 remaining in the half, SB embarked on a 13-play drive that ended with a 1-yard Amonte Brown run as the clock had ticked down to 24.8 seconds. a run attempt for two was stopped and Keondre Tappin came away with an interception to snuff out any scoring chance the Mohawks might have after the ensuing kickoff, leading the game deadlocked at 6-6 with the Eagles carrying some momentum to the break.
"We thought we had the momentum," Farmer said. "We thought right at the half they were getting tired and wearing down. That's why we did so much running (in practice) and we run that track. In the fourth quarter we haven't had any cramps, so we're conditioned. When you're not physically tired, your mind doesn't get tired. We saw a little weakness in there, but they came back and got a second wind, but I thought that was the biggest thing for us, getting the momentum and being physically and mentally conditioned."
Coming out of the break, the Eagles picked up right where they left off, taking the opening kickoff and going 50 yards in seven plays, with Thomas running the final three for the score. Brown hooked up with Faybian Session for a 28-yard gain to open the drive and later found Vaquan Wilder for a 15-yard gain to the 7 and a third-down conversion. Wilder then ran it to the 3 to set up Thomas' score, though Thomas would be stopped on the conversion attempt to leave the SB lead at 12-6.
The next Mohawk drive was all Simmons, and the Eagle defense had no answers for BB's senior speedster. Weaving almost exclusively around left end, Simmons reeled off a 17-yard run and four consecutive 7-yard runs before taking it in for the score from 18 yards out. The Mohawk coaching staff decided to stick with Simmons on the conversion attempt, but the Eagles were ready and came up with the stop to keep the game tied 12-12.
The Eagles went three downs and out on their next possession, but the defense was poised to redeem itself after the ensuing punt and change of possession. Simmons opened with a 12-yard run but was held to three yards on his next three attempts.
Wedgeworth broke off an 11-yard run for a first down but was tackled for an 8-yard loss on consecutive plays as Robert Matterson burst through the line for a fourth-down sack that gave SB the ball at its 45. Runs of six, 27 and seven yards by Thomas highlighted a 5-play drive that was capped by an 8-yard Wilder run. While the pass attempt for conversion was tipped, the Eagles' defense would make that six points stand up over the final 9:32 to close out the win as the Eagles moved to 4-3 overall and 2-0 in Region V-1A.
"To me, this is like a playoff game," Farmer said after his team dropped the Mohawks to 5-2 and 0-1 in the region. "We set three goals (before the season). Our first goal was to win the first game, which we did. Our short-term goal was to win the region, so we're 2-0 now. We've got St. John's non-region next week, a very good team that we'll (likely) have to see in the playoffs if we go on the road. We've got them at home, and from here on out it's playoff games. That's the way we've got to look at it. The biggest thing is we're 2-0 and we gave ourselves a chance at a region championship still."
Farmer said a demanding non-region schedule, with losses to 3A Edisto and Manning and always tough 1A Timmonsville, has set up his team for success in region play.
"I like this schedule," Farmer said. "I've always played tough games. My non-region has always been brutal, but I think it prepares us for games like this."