Loris was reminded by Dillon for a second time this year that the improvements the program has made in recent years aren’t quite yet enough to get the Lions where they want to be.
And Friday night’s 21-7 win by the Wildcats was a final reminder for the 2012 season.
Dillon, which defeated Loris by a touchdown a month ago during the regular season after trailing for much of that game, scored late in the first half Friday to tie the game and added a pair of touchdowns in the second half to end the Lions’ season in the third round of the Class AA playoffs.
“They’re a great football team,” said second-year Loris coach Jamie Snider. “I was just proud of how hard we fought with them in the first half. Unfortunately in the end, they made plays at the end of the game and we didn’t make enough to keep up with them. I never questioned our kids’ effort. We played hard all year.
“Nobody on our football team has anything to hang their head about, and that’s for sure.”
Loris scored the game’s first touchdown late in the second quarter and had chances to take a larger lead after recovering three first-half fumbles in Dillon territory.
But the Dillon defense was stiff and the Wildcats imposed their will in the second half to reach the AA Lower State finals for the ninth time in 10 seasons.
A 5-yard touchdown run by Joe Blue with 2:32 remaining in the third quarter gave Dillon a 14-7 lead.
Loris stopped Blue at the 2 on a fourth-and-goal from the 4 after the Wildcats’ used 10 plays to drive 38 yards on their opening possession of the second half.
But Dillon began its next possession the on the Loris 24 following a punt four plays later, and converted the short field into the touchdown.
One of the few female players in the state made one of the biggest plays of the game on the ensuing kickoff. Loris ran a reverse on the kick return and Ryan Bellamy was racing down the right sideline when Dillon kicker Tara Grimsley made her first tackle of the season at the Dillon 18. She was assisted by another Wildcat in close pursuit of Bellamy.
“I had to do it for my team,” Grimsley said. “I was the last person standing so I went for it. My teammates were excited. They said they’d take a hit for me so I had to take one for them.”
Instead of a tying touchdown and momentum late in the third quarter, the Lions had a 32-yard field goal attempt blocked by Pete Ingram.
“We played hard all game, we just didn’t capitalize on the opportunities we should have capitalized on, and that cost us,” Bellamy said. “You have to take advantage of them when you get a chance to.”
Considering the strength of the Dillon defense, the Wildcats all but sealed the victory with freshman Avery McCall’s 38-yard touchdown pass to Tyreek Hayes with 6:45 left in the game.
Dillon was aided by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on Loris in its 78-yard final scoring drive and had called six consecutive running plays prior to McCall’s pass just over the head of a defender in one-on-one coverage.
“We thought we had that over there. The coaches made a great adjustment and it was a great throw and great catch,” Dillon coach Jackie Hayes said. “You’ve got to be able to throw the ball to get to the state championship game.”
Following Dillon’s third touchdown, Mikel Soles completed a pair of passes for 26 yards and led the Lions on a drive to the Dillon 8, but his incomplete pass in the end zone with 4:02 remaining ended Loris’ hopes.
Soles scored the game’s first touchdown on a 7-yard run on a quarterback draw in the shotgun formation with 3:06 remaining in the first half.
It culminated a 43-yard scoring drive that was set up by a 22-yard punt return by Bellamy and consisted of seven plays, including a 10-yard run by Soles on third-and-2 to the 10, and a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on Dillon.
The Wildcats tied the game with 1:13 remaining in the half on a 17-yard touchdown pass from McCall to Hayes, who broke a tackle to get into the end zone after catching the pass near the left sideline. Hayes had a 25-yard catch two plays before the touchdown reception.
The teams could only muster one first down apiece in the first quarter, and Loris forced and recovered three fumbles in the first half but couldn’t convert any into points.
Austin Messenger recovered a fumble at the Dillon 20, Bellamy stripped a ball-carrier, scooped up the ball and returned it 17 yards to the Dillon 48, and Tyree Floyd recovered a fumbled exchange between the McCall and Anthony Blue at the Dillon 19.
But the Lions lost yards on all three possessions, leading to two punts and a turnover on downs. Loris was held to 118 yards of offense in the game.
The Lions didn’t utilize the turnovers to flip field position, either, because their first three punts went just 28, 23 and 7 yards.
Dillon also lost three fumbles against the Lions in the teams’ first meeting this season on Oct. 19 during Region VIII-AA play, and trailed for most of that game before pulling out a 21-14 win.
“We told them all week, ‘Fellas, if we don’t turn the ball over we’re going to win the football game,’” Hayes said.
The Lions battled Dillon twice this year with just nine seniors on the roster, a fact that wasn’t lost on Hayes. “Coach Snider and Loris should be extremely proud of their program,” Hayes said. “He has really brought it to another level. That’s a young football team we beat and their time is coming.”
Bellamy predicted bigger and better things next season. “This won’t happen next year, I promise you that,” Bellamy said.
Dillon is seeking its third state title in five years and is looking to reach the state championship game for the fourth time in five years.
The Wildcats have a rematch next week with Timberland, which defeated them on a late field goal in last year’s Lower State final on the same day Dillon players attended the funeral of Jake David, a teammate who died in a car accident.
“I can’t even tell you how bad we want it,” Joe Blue said. “We’ve been talking about it since we lost here last year, and we want to seek our revenge.”
L-Mikel Soles 7 run (Orlin Mejia kick)
D-Tyreek Hayes 17 pass from Avery McCall (Tara Grimsley kick)
D-Joe Blue 5 run (Grimsley kick)
D-Hayes 38 pass from McCall (Grimsley kick)