McCORMICK — All week long, the last thing McCormick High School’s football team saw before they stepped out to walk to the practice field was a sign, handwritten in red marker.
The sign said “96 minutes,” marking the amount of game time the Chiefs hoped to still play this season, marking the fact they were 96 minutes away from a state championship.
Friday night, the Chiefs halved that number to 48 minutes with a 34-18 victory over Hunter-Kinard-Tyler in the Class A Division II Upper State championship game.
“We’re excited, of course,” McCormick coach David Neal said after all the celebrations had died down and all the pictures had been taken. “The kids have put in a lot of hard work and it’s been a long time coming. So they’re excited.”
The Chiefs rode a yet-again dominant rushing attack, led by Rontavious Morton, who busted off runs of 62 and 51 yards on his way to 166 yards. McCormick totaled 341 yards on 51 rushes.
Things got off to a wacky start, as the Chiefs attempted an angle kick on the opening kickoff that wound up bouncing into the hands of Kensaevious Brown, giving McCormick the opening possession.
The Chiefs were unable to manage a first down, but on the ensuing H-K-T drive, quarterback Donnie Edwards was intercepted at midfield by Brown, who returned the pick to the Trojans’ 28-yard-line.
Four plays later, Allynn Williams ran it in from nine yards out and the Chiefs were off and running.
A 22-yard touchdown run by Maurice Jefferson and a Jesse Freeman 4-yard score in the second quarter made it 20-0 at halftime.
After the half, McCormick snuffed out whatever hopes H-K-T had of a comeback by getting a Rontavious Morton touchdown run and an Adrien Peterson interception return touchdown within 10 seconds of each other less than halfway into the third quarter for an insurmountable lead.
H-K-T coach Dann Holland, whose team rallied to keep it interesting by putting three late touchdowns on the board, could only tip his cap to the Chiefs after the contest.
“I told (our players) that when the season started, we were not even ranked in the top 25 in South Carolina,” he said. “Nobody gave us a chance at anything and here we are in the final four with a chance to go to the championship game.
“But we give McCormick credit. They beat us fair and square. They’ve got a good football team.”
Trojans quarterback Donnie Edwards completed 22-37 passes on the night, compiling 307 yards through the air and tossing two touchdowns.
The Chiefs’ quest for a state title culminates next Friday as they meet Cross High School — which pulled off a stunning comeback to beat Lake View High for the Lower State title — at Benedict College. Kickoff is slated for 3 p.m.
Hunter-Kinard-Tyler 0 0 6 12 — 18
McCormick 8 12 14 0 — 34
M: Allynn Williams 9 run (Jay Weaver run)
M: Maurice Jefferson 22 run (run no good)
M: Jesse Freeman 4 run (run no good)
M: Rontavious Morton 51 run (Freeman run)
M: Adrien Peterson 4 interception return (Jalen Adams run)
H: D’Andre Walker 23 from Donnie Edwards (pass no good)
H: Edwards 3 run (pass no good)
H: Walker 51 from Edwards (run no good)
RUSHING — H: Tyren Brooks 2-6, TyKeil Wade 5-(-2), Donnie Edwards 14-4; M: Morton 12-166, Williams 11-55, Jefferson 9-46, Freeman 10-40, Littlejohn 3-17, Jalen Adams 3-6, Weaver 3-1
PASSING — H: Edwards 22-37-307-2; M: Weaver 1-4-3-0
RECEIVING — H: Breshawn Fields 9-128, D’Andre Walker 5-96, Darius Hammonds 5-68, Walter Edwards 2-11, Seth Hanna 1-4
Records: H (8-5), M (11-2)