COLUMBIA – For three rounds of the heavyweight bout at Benedict College’s Charles W. Johnson Stadium on Friday night, Bamberg-Ehrhardt and Abbeville couldn’t land anything but glancing blows.

When the fourth quarter started though, the Red Raiders scored first to deliver a serious right cross, before the Panthers punched in two touchdowns in the final five minutes to take the S.C. High School League Class 2A State Football Championship by a 14-7 final.

It was the ninth overall and third consecutive title for Abbeville (14-1 record), while Bamberg-Ehrhardt (13-2) continues to look for its second championship in program history.

“It’s tough to have these seniors get us to this point and then have to watch them come up short again,” B-E head coach Kevin “Butch” Crosby said after an emotional postgame team huddle. “It’s just one of those things where they got the momentum going late and that’s hard to stop.

“Abbeville, they’ve been here three years in a row and, not taking anything away from their play tonight, but that experience takes over at some point. I commend our guys for not giving up and just playing hard.”

Jerrald Manigault, one of 22 seniors on the roster for the Red Raiders, appeared to give B-E the only score it would need with a 79-yard punt return for a touchdown at the 9:34 mark of the fourth quarter. Manigault waited for the punt to bounce before snatching it and following a wall of blocks down the B-E sideline, untouched for the score. Hunter Bridges added the PAT kick and fans from all over Bamberg County stood to their feet in anticipation of the first program title since 1990.

But just when the Red Raiders felt another championship season could be within reach, the Panthers answered with the ensuing drive, going 69 yards on nine plays for the equalizer. Senior tailback Junior Rapley carried on the last two plays inside the 5-yard line, but on the second carry from the 1-yard line Rapley fumbled into the end zone, where JaBryan Sanders recovered for a touchdown. Dylan Beauford added the PAT for a 7-7 score with 4:33 left to play.

Deszman Porter returned the following kick for B-E with the game knotted 7-7, but he had the ball stripped from him and recovered by Quadarius Guillebeaux for the Panthers at the Red Raiders’ 30-yard line. Two plays later, Rapley carried around the left side and went untouched for 26 yards and a touchdown. Beauford kicked the PAT for a 14-7 lead with 3:32 left to play.

B-E started what could have been the tying drive. But after 29 yards, A.J. Williams attempted his third and final pass of the night. Unfortunately, it was his lone pass that was caught, when J.D. Moore intercepted the ball along the Abbeville sideline to seal the win.

“We got so excited about the punt return score that we never got ourselves back in line emotionally to play defense the way we needed to,” Crosby said. “We just never got right again to rebound from that score.

“We should have punched it in (on the first drive of the second half) when we got down there on the goal line. I thought we were in on the quarterback sneak, but we’ll just have to go back and re-evaluate things. Coach (Jamie) Nickles and Abbeville, that’s a great football team and they have things rolling right now.”

The closest either team came to scoring in the first three quarters came when Beauford kicked about a yard short of making a 40-yard field goal for Abbeville midway through the second quarter, and when B-E was stopped in the red zone and Bridges missed a 22-yard field goal attempt wide right on the first Red Raiders’ drive of the third quarter.

There were 19 first downs in the game, with 13 coming from the Panthers. All 19 were on rushing plays. Abbeville totaled 212 yards rushing on 44 attempts, while B-E totaled 112 yards rushing on 30 attempts.

Williams led B-E with 52 yards rushing. It didn’t help the Red Raiders that junior tailback Dahlil Wilkins and senior tailback James Gainyard each dealt with muscle cramps in the second half, and were limited to a combined seven carries for 24 yards.

Blaze Bunch averaged 44.5 yards punting for B-E, with a long of 48 yards and two punts that pinned the Panthers inside their own 20-yard line.

Jermaine Blackwell led Abbeville with 51 yards rushing, while Rapley added 50 yards on the ground. Quarterback Bryce Jackson was 1-for-6 passing for 9 yards, while also rushing for 29 yards on five carries.

Senior linebacker Nick Hughes led B-E with 10 tackles, including three solo stops, while Williams had nine, including four solo stops. Wilkins had six tackles and Manigault and Gainyard each had five tackles.

Senior linebacker Charles Holback led the Panthers with nine tackles, including three solo stops.

Contact the writer: cclark@timesanddemocrat.com and 803-533-5553.

Outbrain