BAMBERG -- When the going got tough, the Red Raiders leaned on their stingy defense and took to the air for points.
Bamberg-Ehrhardt posted two passing touchdowns in the second quarter on Friday night to propel them to a 23-3 win over Barnwell at Leon Maxwell Stadium in the South Carolina High School League Class 2A Lower State Championship.
It was the second time the Red Raiders (13-1 overall record) took a win against the Warhorses (11-2 final record), having won 21-0 at Barnwell during Region 5-2A play.
B-E will now prepare to face two-time defending state Class A champion Abbeville, in a 5 p.m. game at Benedict College on Friday, Dec. 1.
"This group (of 22 senior players) was freshmen the last time we went (to state) and we went through a lot of adversity getting there," Red Raiders head coach Kevin "Butch" Crosby said. "They saw that and they wanted to do what they could to give us a chance to win this thing.
"I'm just proud of them, but we've got to go back to work come tomorrow. I knew we would be a little jittery and we might give up a score, but we were going to have to score points to win tonight. I thought we did a great job offensively, recognizing what they were giving us defensively."
The first quarter ended with Barnwell driving the ball, with a second down inside the B-E 25-yard line. Five plays later, after the Red Raiders stood strong on defense, the Warhorses got a 24-yard field goal from Hunter Webb. The visitors took the early lead, 3-0, with 10:14 left in the second quarter.
B-E saw its run game stall on the ensuing drive, with Barnwell's Jackson Carter and Julius Arnold each getting tackles for a loss to force a Blaze Bunch' punt. Bunch, who has regularly booted key punts to flip the field for B-E all season, kicked a short 20-yarder. But, a 3-and-out forced by the hometown defense got the ball right back for B-E.
On first down, and the 16th offensive play of the game for the Red Raiders, junior quarterback A.J. Williams delivered his first pass of the night, hitting senior Reece Zeigler on a 16-yard pass that Zeigler turned into a 51-yard play. Adding a facemask penalty onto the reception, B-E had a first down on the Barnwell' 14-yard line. Three plays later, Williams delivered his second pass of the night, a 13-yarder over the middle of the defense to a waiting Dahlil Wilkins for a touchdown. Hunter Bridges added the PAT for a 7-3 lead with 4:29 left in the half.
"Most people pack the box against us because they know running the ball is what we do," Crosby said. "We were just trying to hold on and find the right time to throw one so that it would hit big. We threw two that hit big.
"That was our gameplan, to suck, suck, suck them in, and then look for something big that they gave us. Beating a team twice that came through the region, that hasn't been done here in Bamberg since 1989. History answers the question of what you did. In 1989, we beat a team twice, but then lost the state championship. This team wants to go finish the season with a title next week and make their own history."
Senior linebacker Nick Hughes made a tackle for a loss on third down to stop Barnwell's next drive before it even got a first down. B-E then had its best offensive series of the night, despite starting with a false start. The Red Raiders went 87 yards on 7 plays, including Williams running for 14 yards. The drive culminated with a 33-yard pass from Williams to Bunch from his tight end position, as Bunch broke a tackle and ran free for the final 20 yards on the scoring strike. Bridges added the PAT for a 14-3 lead for the home team with less that 28 seconds in the half.
"We came out slow in the run game tonight, and we know we can't do that next week; we have to come out on fire," Williams said. "But, we started with the play-action and that started working.
"It gives us a lot of confidence, knowing we can pass if we need to. We just want to get better. This is playing for the brotherhood, for the ones who played here before us. It's not about us right now, it's about starting a new legacy to add to this program."
Gaining just 56 net yards rushing in the opening two quarters didn't keep B-E from scoring. Mixing in the pass opened up scoring opportunities that were sorely needed to get the early lead.
Hughes ended Barnwell's attempt to post a late drive before the break, batting down a pass at the line of scrimmage and making another tackle for a 3-yard loss to end the half.
"Staying focused, it's all about (our defense) calming all the hype down and staying focused on the special playmakers on their team," Hughes said. "We had to adjust during the first half.
"This feels real nice, real special. All the process, during the summer, to get to state is a great feeling. It was a big game, but we stayed humble and got it done. We earned this."
Each team was forced to punt at the end of its opening drive of the third quarter, and each finished with a 42-yard punt to pin the opponent back into its own territory.
The difference was that a Bunch boot forced Barnwell to start from its own 7-yard line. On second down, after Hughes and Deszman Porter combined on a tackle for a 2-yard loss, Barnwell senior quarterback Pete Elmore was flagged for a safety after passing from his end zone to an area with no receiver within a 20-yard radius. B-E led 16-3 with 6:39 left in the third quarter.
Barnwell continued to clog the middle on defense, stopping the next B-E drive on fourth down. But the following Warhorses' drive was stalled on a third-down swing pass that Hughes sniffed out and stopped for a 3-yard loss.
B-E opened the fourth quarter with the ball. But a 6-play drive looked like it had ended with a punt from Bunch. Griffin Corley blocked the boot, but Porter recovered the loose ball and ran down the B-E sideline for the first down. The Red Raiders didn't get points thanks to their good fortune, but they did take more time off the clock before punting.
With Barnwell looking to the air in a last-ditch effort to score, senior defensive back Ja'Darius Wheeler intercepted a pass from Elmore and returned it 22 yards to the Barnwell 35-yard line.
The Red Raiders took 11 plays on the following drive and, despite two penalties, scored on a 4-yard carry by junior Javalas Folk with 1:05 left in the game. Bridges added the PAT for the 23-3 final tally.
James Gainyard led all B-E rushers, carrying the ball 14 times for 55 yards.
Williams had 15 carries for 24 yards and completed the first 3 of his 5 passes for 117 yards.
Barnwell finished with just 66 net rushing yards on 28 carries, as Hughes, Wilkins and senior lineman Se'veon Butler made stops on defense all night for the Red Raiders.