Friday night could not have gone any better for Orangeburg-Wilkinson head football coach Tommy Brown.
Before the game, he received a standing ovation from the sold-out homecoming crowd at Bruin Stadium as he was presented a red blazer in recognition for serving as the South Carolina head coach for the 2013 Shrine Bowl set for Dec. 21 in Spartanburg.
After falling behind for the first time all season, the Bruins answered visiting Richland Northeast with 28 unanswered points. With 8:22 left in the fourth quarter, it appeared remaining undefeated and matching the program’s best start in 10 years would provide a perfect nightcap for Brown.
In a span of 57 seconds, the winless Cavaliers appeared poised to spoil O-W’s evening in dramatic fashion. Capitalizing off two straight turnovers with touchdown runs by quarterback Simeon Kelly, the Cavaliers had the football back in scoring position with less than three minutes left and a chance to deadlock the game.
With the Bruin faithful on the edge of their seats, a fatigued defense mustered one more stand. On fourth down and 1:22 left, O-W defensive back Chris Argrow blocked a potential touchdown pass by Kelly to end the threat.
This enabled O-W quarterback Austin Bradley to run out the remaining time and escape with a 28-21 victory.
Following the game, a frustrated Brown was not in the mood to celebrate improving to 5-0 entering Region 8-AAA play.
“We just thanked God for this blessing because we didn’t come to play,” a frustrated Brown said following the game. “Not taking anything from (Richland) Northeast, but we didn’t come to play today. (Richland) Northeast did a good job. They hung in there. They didn’t quit and they came out in the second half. We’ve got to learn. We’ve got to grow up.”
Using short, quick passes and a 31-yard run by quarterback Simeon Kelly, the Cavaliers (0-5) became the first team to score on the opening drive against the Bruins’ defense. A 12-play, 80-yard drive which started with a 9-yard loss on a botched pitch to running back Barry Moore ended with Kelly completing a 6-yard touchdown pass to B.J. Dickerson.
The Bruins quickly tied the game two minutes and 20 seconds later. Catching the screen pass from Bradley, Wallie Tarte found an open lane down the home team sidelines and sprinted upfield for a 63-yard touchdown.
It was the first of four touchdown passes thrown by Bradley, two each to Tarte and Kendell Benjamin, as he finished 12-20 for 216 yards,
A 39-yard run out of the backfield by Tarte set up the Bruins’ next score in the second quarter. Facing third-and-10 at the Richland Northeast 13, Bradley connected with Benjamin on a slant pass in the middle of the end zone to put O-W up 13-7.
With 41 seconds left in the first half, Bradley and Benjamin got together on a longer pass play. This time, Bradley faked out the Richland Northeast defender which left an open Benjamin to catch the pass and run across the goal line for the score.
The Bruins’ duo got together a third time on the 2-point conversion to make it 21-7. Richland Northeast managed to move across midfield on its next possession, but Kelly was intercepted by O-W’s Azende Dixon with 18 seconds left to preserve the halftime lead.
A long interception return for a touchdown by O-W’s Johnathan Hagood early in the second half was nullified by an illegal block. A fourth-down conversion pass of 11 yards by Bradley to Benjamin on which the Cavaliers were penalized for roughing the passer set up a first-and-goal for the Bruins.
Much like the first touchdown pass to Benjamin, Bradley found Tarte on a slant in the end zone to extend O-W’s lead to 28-7.
“It seemed like we kind of bogged down,” Richland Northeast head coach Jeff Scott said. “It’s not the first time that we moved the ball a little bit, bogged down. It seemed like we’ll have a big snap or have a penalty or something on those lines or have a blown assignment. It seems like just one play or another always hurts us.”
The Cavaliers had two scoring opportunities in O-W’s red zone during the fourth quarter. They advanced the football to the Bruins’ 16, only for Cornelius Walker to intercept Kelly’s pass in the end zone with 8:22 left in the game.
Instead of putting the Bruins in position to clinch the victory, it was the start of the Cavaliers’ comeback bid. Bradley’s first-down pass was picked off by Richland Northeast’s T.J. Brunson at the 31-yard line.
Five straight rushes set up a 1-yard run by Kelly with 5:46 left in game. On the ensuing kickoff, O-W was downed at its own 11 and Micah Charles was stopped for a 10-yard loss.
On third down, a botched exchange at center resulted in a fumble recovery by Richland Northeast. Kelly’s number was called again as he rushed in from two yards to bring the Cavaliers to within a touchdown and PAT of tying the game.
The O-W offense could not move the football again, giving Richland Northeast a final opportunity starting at the 44-yard line. Completions by Kelly brought the Cavaliers to the O-W 25, but he was taken down by Romello Loynes and Albert Huggins for a 9-yard loss on third down.
After a 14-yard reception by Corey Todd, it came down to fourth-and-five, where the O-W defense finally insured a happy homecoming for its fans.
With defending region champion Hanahan visiting next week, Brown expects a very serious tone in practice this week.
“Next week going into the region, we’ve just got to play a little bit better,” he said. “A lot tougher, a lot smarter because Hanahan is going to come in here to play.”
RNE — Dickerson 6 pass from Kelly (kick good) 4:46
O-W — Tarte 63 pass from Bradley (kick good) 2:26
O-W — Benjamin 13 pass from Bradley (kick failed) 9:40
O-W — Benjamin 53 pass from Bradley (Benjamin pass from Bradley) 41 seconds
O-W — Tarte 6 pass from Benjamin (kick good) 6:07
RNE — Kelly 1 run (kick good) 5:46
RNE — Kelly 2 run (kick good) 4:49