Carolina Forest sophomore Harold Atkinson has had to be patient for offensive opportunities this season while playing behind a 1,200-yard rusher in senior Mark Timmons, but his potential is unmistakable.
Panthers coach Drew Hummel calls Atkinson the team's running back of the future.
And on Friday night, well, he briefly became the running back of the moment - just long enough to spur Carolina Forest on to a much-needed victory.
Re-entering the game early in the fourth quarter to give Timmons a breather against Sumter's physical defensive line, Atkinson broke off runs of 9 and 28 yards before finishing the drive with a 26-yard jaunt up the middle for the go-ahead touchdown as the Panthers held on for a 22-19 win at home.
Both teams had entered the night 0-2 in Region VI-AAAA play and badly needed a win.
"It means a lot. It was a do-or-die tonight, win or go home," Atkinson said. "And we won it."
Atkinson finished with a team-high 86 rushing yards and two touchdowns in 10 carries, with 70 of his yards coming in the fourth quarter - highlighted by those runs of 28 and 26 yards on back-to-back plays to score with 7:43 remaining.
"They were huge up front and physical, and it was just hard for Mark tonight," Hummel said of the 5-foot-8 Timmons. "I thought we needed a little more powerful runner in there that could get downhill a little bit better and push the pile and do some things. We got some seams and some gaps, and Harold took us down on that touchdown drive and made the plays that he needed to. We've got all the confidence in both of our backs."
Junior Jarvez Holmes intercepted Sumter (2-7) in the waning moments to seal the win for Carolina Forest, which improves to 6-3 overall.
Not without plenty of second-half suspense, though.
Sumter had a 13-12 halftime lead that stood until the final minutes of the third quarter when Carolina Forest senior kicker Christopher Nwanegwo lined up for a 37-yard field goal attempt. It would have been a much closer try, but the Panthers had lost 15 yards on an ill-fated rushing attempt on the previous play. Not to mention that Nwanegwo had already had one extra point attempt blocked and another miss.
But he got just enough of this one as the ball bounced off either the crossbar or the base of the goalpost just behind the crossbar on its way through the uprights.
"Sometimes you've got to have that on a Friday night to win," Hummel said.
Later, after being called for a false start penalty on a punt attempt, Carolina Forest was forced to re-kick. This time, the snap went over punter Robert Jolly's head as Sumter took over at the Panthers' 22.
The Gamecocks scored three plays later on a 5-yard touchdown run by Robert Ross to take a 19-15 lead (after failing on a two-point conversion try).
But on the next drive, Atkinson left his mark on the game - and the outcome.
Now, the Panthers hope they can sustain some momentum from the win.
"The biggest thing was our football team not doubting themselves," Hummel said. "We think we've got a good football team, and everybody in this region is good and everybody in this region could beat each other on any given night."
Junior quarterback Daniel Daly finished 12 of 23 passing for 155 yards and an interception, while Holmes had seven catches for 120 yards and Timmons added 63 rushing yards.
Junior quarterback Frank Gillen led Sumter with 107 rushing yards and two first-half touchdowns, including a 74-yard scoring scamper.