Socastee players clad in their white and gold jerseys gathered at midfield in the aftermath of the Battle of 707, and hoisting the trophy that goes to the victors in this neighborhood rivalry the cry went up – “The trophy is back in Socastee.”
Each team committed four turnovers in an annual battle between schools located about seven miles apart on S.C. 707 in southern Horry County, but a pair of interception returns for touchdowns helped the visiting Braves pull away from St. James late for a 35-14 victory.
“Hats off to our defense, our defense did a great job of getting turnovers back,” said Socastee coach Doug Illing. “We kept giving the ball back to them and giving them more opportunities than they deserved. The two touchdowns on the two picks was enormous. That was big, that was a big lift for our team.”
The Braves (2-3) piled up 352 yards total offense behind a dominant offensive line as junior Edward Tucker gained 133 yards on 21 carries to key a rushing attack that totaled 220 yards on 33 carries. Quarterback Hunter Illing was efficient, completing 12 of 17 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
But the fumbles kept coming, as the Sharks forced four from Braves runners to stay within striking distance.
Socastee dominated the first half, opening up a 14-0 lead on Malachi McClendon’s 30-yard touchdown catch from Illing, followed by Kenny Solomon’s 70-yard interception return for a touchdown with 2:45 left in the first quarter.
The teams traded scores in the third quarter with the Braves holding a 21-6 advantage going to the fourth quarter.
St. James (0-6) challenged the Braves when wide receiver Gage Flohr got behind the Socastee defense and caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Berkeley Young. Young then found Cameron Williams for the two-point conversion and the Sharks had pulled within 21-14 with 7:44 left in the game. Momentum was clearly on the St. James sideline heading down the stretch.
But the Braves quickly responded, going to the ground game and marching 61 yards on four carries, with Tucker scoring on a 34-yard scamper up the middle for a 28-14 Socastee lead with 5:51 to play.
On the Sharks’ ensuing possession, Aeneas Green broke in front of a receiver for an interception and returned Young’s pass 50 yards for a touchdown to clinch the victory at 35-14 with 4:02 to play.
“I think our kids really rose to the challenge right there,” Doug Illing said. “We’ve been through a lot this year, we know how to persevere, we stayed positive. We grew through that moment and showed a lot of character right there. That’s something we’ve been developing for several weeks now. Hats off to our guys for doing that, I was proud of them.”
Illing was glad to see a balanced attack, especially the return to form of Tucker, a 5-foot-11, 170-pound junior.
“He’s had a toe injury and had a wrist injury,” Illing said. “He’s back healthy now and that’s what he’s capable of doing, that’s what he’s going to give us.”
The Sharks were left searching for their first win of the season, but St. James coach Robby Brown was pleased with his team’s effort.
“We came back out, we fought and made a play and scored a couple touchdowns in the second half,” he said. “I’m proud of the kids to keep plugging along like that but we made too many mistakes and you can put that on me. I’m proud of the kids for fighting and showing a little grit there.”
S-Malachi McClendon 30 pass from Hunter Illing (Fernando Velez kick)
S-Kenny Solomon 70 interception return (Velez kick)
SJ-Jay-Mion Pressley 7 run (kick failed)
S-Dashaun Myers 17 pass from Illing (Velez kick)
SJ-Gage Flohr 43 pass from Berkeley Young (Cameron Williams pass from Young)
S-Edward Tucker 34 run (Velez kick)
S-Aeneas Green 50 interception return (Velez kick)
Rushing: Socastee: Tucker 21-133, Myers 6-61, Illing 2-16, McClendon 3-1, Nick Carnucci 1-8. St. James: Pressley 20-34, Young 6-(minus) 6, Sage Pascoe 2-13, Devin Carey 2-(minus 1).
Passing: Socastee: Illing 12-17-0, 132. St. James: Young 17-32-3, 130.
Receiving: Socastee: McClendon 5-62, Devin Stamp 4-32, Green 2-9, Bricen Nguyen 1-16, Myers 1-17. St. James: Flohr 6-77, Trey Myers 5-46, Pressley 3-6, Pascoe 2-14, Bryce Terhart 1-4.