The Carvers Bay Bears are back in the Lower State finals, a place the proud program has not been since the last of its three straight trips to the state championship game in 2008.
Bears senior running back Devin Cuttino scored three rushing touchdowns and Carvers Bay withstood a late scare from the Estill Fighting Gators in a 20-12 victory Friday night in the second round of the Class A, Division I playoffs.
“We haven’t been here since 2008, so this is new for them,” Carvers Bay coach Nate Thompson said of the Lower State finals trip. “They have no idea. … It is like riding in a car, you don’t go to sleep because you know you are going somewhere you have never been. Let’s hope we can keep their eyes open the whole time.”
The ending was a little more exciting than Thompson would have hoped.
The Bears (11-1) led 20-12 when senior Hikeem Hampton returned a punt 41 yards to give Carvers Bay the ball at Estill’s 32-yard line with 6:33 left in the game. Carvers Bay drove to a first-and-goal from the Fighting Gators’ 9-yard line and looked to put the game away. But on 3rd-and-goal from the 2, Cuttino fumbled and Estill took over at its own 8 with 2:55 on the clock.
The Fighting Gators’ first two completions of the night helped them move to the Bears’ 8-yard-line with just under a minute left. But the Carvers Bay defense, helped by an Estill penalty, forced a 4th-and-goal from the 29, and a long pass into the end zone was well out of bounds.
Estill (9-3), which had a 4-hour trip to reach Carvers Bay, featured a two-back tandem in speedsters Jarvis Singleton and DeAngelo Bryant, who combined for 240 yards rushing in the game.
“They got two great backs, and you can’t take anything from them,” Thompson said of Singleton and Bryant. “They are that type of team that works hard and believes in themselves. They came here to play. They didn’t care about the long trip, they took care of that against Johnsonville. We had to play on our game. … All [Singleton] needs is a strip of land, and he is gone. He is a phenomenal back.”
The Bears opened the scoring when Cuttino took an inside handoff 64 yards on the team’s second play from scrimmage.
But Estill answered less than a minute later. On a 3rd-and-11 play, Singleton, a junior, took a sweep to his left and beat the Bears defenders to the corner on his way to an 83-yard touchdown run.
The second quarter began with Carvers Bay taking possession at its own 37-yard line. The Bears put together an 11-play, five-minute drive in which six different Bears handled the ball. Cuttino finished it off with a 1-yard scoring run to give the Bears a 12-6 lead.
Once again, the Fighting Gators followed the Bears’ example to keep pace. Estill responded with a 13-play drive that lasted five and a half minutes and ended with Bryant’s 9-yard scoring run to tie the game at 12.
Singleton finished the first half with 138 rushing yards and a touchdown, but was held to just 11 rushing yards in the second half.
Thompson has a two-headed rushing monster of his own, with seniors Cuttino and Hampton. Cuttino finished with 95 yards and the three scores while Hampton had 75 rushing yards to go with an interception and the long punt return.
But Thompson called ON Cuttino in the second half when the tough yards were needed.
“He is our money man. We have leaned on Devin all year,” Thompson said. “We don’t make any bones about it, we tell him ‘you are our back.’ On defense too, he is a guy that can flush that quarterback, so that is another good thing.”
The win earns the Bears a home matchup with Allendale-Fairfax next Friday. The winner will advance to the Class A state championship game on Nov. 29 at Benedict College in Columbia
CB—Devin Cuttino 64 run (kick failed), 9:10
E—Jarvis Singleton 83 run (kick failed), 7:31
CB—Cuttino 1 run (run failed), 7:07
E—DeAngelo Bryant 9 run (run failed), 1:38
CB—Cuttino 2 run (Hikeem Hampton run), 7:49