St. James players walked off the field for the final time in 2014 knowing they weren’t going to the playoffs.
That didn’t stop the smiles, cheering or photos with friends and family.
The Sharks topped Lake City 14-12 Thursday, making the most of a turnover-laden game and playing tough defense. It ended a painful streak of 10 straight region losses, and it allowed a team that had lost four games this season by a single score to go into the offseason on a winning note.
“For them to leave the home field, they’ve been in so many tight games, it’s a great feeling,” interim coach Robby Brown said. “Going into the offseason, it’s so much of a better taste in their mouth. We got a few breaks.”
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The Sharks most definitely did.
St. James opened the scoring on a 7-yard Alan Crum run in the first quarter following a bizarre Sharks punt. Lake City’s return man called for a fair catch, only to misplay the ball. It was kicked several times before the Sharks eventually jumped on it on the Panthers’ 7-yard line. On the ensuing play, Crum punched it in.
The turnover was a sign of things to come. The teams combined for six more turnovers in the second quarter alone, including four interceptions (three from Lake City freshman Chris Burnette) and two more on special teams (both St. James).
The Panthers’ other quarterback, starter Rick Turner, added an interception of his own in the second half, but even that wasn’t the most decisive turnover. Lake City, trailing by two, got the ball back with 2:58 left in the game. Turner orchestrated three plays in succession to get his team down to the 6.
On the next play, a high snap sailed over his head and St. James recovered. They were able to run out the final minute-plus in the victory formation.
“For our seniors, it means everything,” Crum said. “We’ve been wanting to win. … We’ve definitely changed the face of St. James this year. Our seniors, we’re proud of that. Our record doesn’t show it, but our games do. We’ve been in every region game. We were right there.
“It didn’t flip our way until the end finally. It’s a good way to go out.”
St. James finishes 3-7 overall and 1-4 in Region VII-AAA, and it appears they’ll go into the offseason with not only a positive vibe but with Brown back in town.
Both he and Athletics Director Paula Lee expressed interest in the coach having the interim tag removed from his title in the coming weeks. If that does happen, it means Brown will be the coach to prepare the Sharks not only for next season, but the impending move to Class AAAA.
St. James’ current enrollment is between that of area Class AAAA schools Socastee and Conway, and that means a move up in 2016 is likely.
But all that is a ways off. For now, the Sharks have given themselves reason to celebrate.
“They believed in the system,” Brown said. “They finally get one.”
SJ - Alan Crum 7 run (Charles Ouverson kick)
LC - Trevone Williams 2 run (kick failed)
SJ - Alijah Pursely 41 INT return (Ouverson kick)
LC - Molik Brown 4 run (conv. failed)
LC: Rick Turner 10-72; Molik Brown 8-42; Tyshawn Baines 11-51; SJ: Alan Crum 21-49
LC: Turner 6-22-1, 90 yards; Chris Burnette 5-10-3, 52 yards; SJ: Zach Werba 11-16-1, 70 yards
LC: Jalen Barr 4-51; Vence Hanna 4-52; Brown 1-42; SJ: Jamal Richardson 4-23; Marc Hyman 2-20