SOCASTEE Socastee’s defense was shell-shocked.
The Braves were nearly helpless as Hartsville took its opening drive 97 yards for an early score, and shades of the 2012 meeting between the two schools appeared to be in full force. That’s when Socastee showed something against the best team it’s faced all season.
First-year coach Doug Illing’s team got some revenge by beating the Red Foxes 21-20 in the most closely contested game Socastee has played since the 2011 season.
“Our kids are going to fight until the very end,” Illing said. “I think we fought a little bit too much there between the whistles. We just didn’t know when to stop.”
That much was clear for both sides.
The teams combined for 25 penalties for nearly 230 yards. Not surprisingly, some of the biggest plays of the game were determined by yellow flags.
The biggest, as it turned out, was after Hartsville’s fourth-quarter touchdown run from Shy McPhail brought the Red Foxes within a point of tying the game. An unsportsmanlike conduct on Socastee moved the ball to inside the 2, and Hartsville – trailing by two touchdowns at halftime and trying to complete the comeback – went for it, attempting to take the lead.
The Red Fox rushing attempt was stopped shy of the goal line.
Socastee eventually turned its ensuing drive over on downs, giving Hartsville one more chance starting at its own 30. Three passes moved the Red Foxes into scoring range.
Again, though, Socastee’s defense stood up.
Joe Smolenski recorded his second sack of the game and Hunter Renfrow’s interception sealed the win.
“I think we’ve already proved ourselves against other teams,” Smolenski said. “We’re just building our name even more.”
Socastee will stay at home next week, when Marlboro County, another Region VI-AAA squad, comes to town. The Lower State semifinal was so close to being the Marlboro County-Hartsville rematch.
Hartsville, the best defense in the state allowing just 5.1 points per game, gave up all three Socastee touchdowns in the second quarter. The Braves got a touchdown pass from Renfrow to Matt Trimby, and rushing scores from Delano Walters and Kyle Smith.
A sloppy third quarter, though, put Hartsville right back into it.
During that period alone, the teams combined for nine penalties, several of which equated to first downs. Socastee ran just seven plays in the third, but gave up just seven points.
“We gave them way too many extra opportunities,” Illing said. “We should have put this game away a long time ago. But we held on there at the end and won.”
Hartsville, with the best defense in the state through 11 games, was allowing just 5.1 points per game and had recorded six shutouts, including one last week in the first round of the state playoffs.
Combined with that opening drive, and Jeff Calabrese’s team looked like it was going to mimic last year’s 40-13 win between the two teams in the Lower State semifinals. That was even more of a possibility after the Braves were forced into two straight three-and-outs to start the game.
The first-half damage was relegated to that. Socastee went into the break leading 21-7. After those two second-half touchdowns, the game was in question again.
Until, that is, the Braves defense did what it needed to when it needed it most.
“They came out and smacked us in the mouth,” Smolenski said. “We got back up and smacked them back. They didn’t get up.”
H – Brian Rivers 15 run (Jones Tinsley kick)
S – Matt Trimby 14 rec from Hunter Renfrow (Trimby kick)
S – Kyle Smith 3 run (Trimby kick)
S – Delano Walters 16 run (Trimby kick)
H – Austin Morris 29 rec from Daiquan Benjamin (Tinsley kick)
H – Shy McPhail 2 run (conv. failed)