Carolina Forest didn’t have many opportunities to score in the second half.
The Panthers made two series in the fourth quarter count.
After playing St. James to a tie at halftime, Carolina Forest went ahead in the fourth quarter with a long Will Brunson touchdown pass and then a long Harold Atkinson run en route to a 35-15 win over the Sharks. It was just enough to make what had been a hotly contested game for three quarters appear to be something altogether different.
And if nothing else, it snaps Carolina Forest’s four-game losing streak dating back to the end of last season.
“Any time you win, it builds confidence,” Panthers coach Drew Hummel said. “There’s only so much we can tell them ‘You’re a good football team.’ They needed to come out, and it happened at a good time.”
Behind a first-year offensive coordinator, Joe Blackwell, with a decade of NCAA Division-I coaching experience and Brunson, the talented young quarterback, Carolina Forest was expected to be a better team than the one that went 7-4 a year ago.
However, back-to-back losses to Socastee and Big 16 foe Fort Dorchester had people reconsidering early season predictions. Friday, if nothing else, the Panthers can say they dug one out late.
St. James put together an eight-minute, third-quarter drive. However, it stalled when the Sharks went for it on fourth-and goal inside the five and the Panthers made the stop on the 1-yard line. In total, Carolina Forest – which had to punt on its ensuing possession – had the ball for less than 3 minutes in the third quarter.
In the fourth, however, Brunson put his team up 22-15 when he connected with sophomore Kyle Belack on a 46-yard pass. The touchdown followed the previous play, in which Brunson’s then-long scoring pass to Zavier Jones was negated due to a penalty.
“We didn’t have but one possession in the third quarter, but we just say ‘Next play,’” Brunson said. “That’s always our mentality. Whenever we get on the field, we have to take advantage of it. There was a questionable call on Ryan Yurachek on the hold, but we just came back and executed the play that was called.”
Two offensive series later, Carolina Forest made it stick when Atkinson took it in from 23-yards out. The highly recruiting running back finished with 15 carries for 91 yards and two scores, and he also played the majority of defensive snaps.
The team’s leading tackler from a year ago, Kyle Rice, broke his hand in the first half of last week’s loss to Fort Dorchester, and the Panthers were left filling some holes. It showed early.
St. James came out firing, scoring the first 12 points of the game. Quarterback Josh Roper complete all five of his pass attempts in the first half. During that same stretch, running back Allen Crum ran for 77 yards and a score on eight carries.
In the final 41:53 of game time, though, Carolina Forest outscored St. James 29-3.
It may have been different had the Sharks scored on that long third-quarter possession, and it left St. James coach Mark Fischer second-guessing himself.
“I should have kicked a field goal,” Fischer said of going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line. “I tried to call the time out to kick the field goal because I knew I made a bad choice. I got too gun-slinger out there. I should have kicked it and got the points. They got a little [momentum] back. It wasn’t my kids’ fault. That was a dumb call.”
For Hummel and his Panthers, the result of that play helped them end a losing streak.
“After the rocky start, our defense settled down and played about 42 minutes of great football and held them to three points,” Hummel said. “They ate the whole third quarter up. And we made a crucial stop.”
St. J – Allen Crum 26 run (PAT failed)
St. J – Tyus Goodman 30 rec from Josh Roper (conv. failed)
CF – Harold Atkinson 3 run (Michael Brooks kick)
St. J – Charles Overson 21 field goal
CF – Ryan Yurachek 17 rec from Will Brunson (Brunson to Yurachek conv)
CF – Kyle Belack 46 rec from Brunson (Brooks kick)
CF – Atkinson 23 run (Brooks kick)
CF - touchdown, n/a (no PAT)
RUSHING—CF – Harold Atkinson 15-91, Napier Armstrong 13-80. STJ – Austin Adams 13-44, Allen Crum 14-96, Tyus Goodman 5-27, Josh Roper 3-2, Champ Mose 1-1, Brooks Hurston 1-3.
PASSING—CF – Brunson 14-18-0, 170 yards. STJ – Roper 7-17-0, 77 yards.
RECEIVING—Ryan Yurachek 6-56, Zavier Jones 3-19, Kyle Belack 4-99, Atkinson 1-(-)3. STJ – Dakota Holmes 2-10, Brooks Hurston 1-8, Goodman 1-30, Trey McCollum 3-24.