Loris needed a bounce-back win for both its psyche and prospects for a Class AA playoff run, and junior quarterback Ta’Jay Williams provided the necessary performance.
Williams completed 9-of-14 passes for a career-high 261 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for another two scores to lead Loris to a 41-14 win over Aynor.
The win followed another lopsided Lions loss to defending AA state champion Dillon last week, and Loris (9-1, 4-1 in Region VIII-AA) now awaits a Lower State playoff seed, which will likely be between Nos. 2-4 and come with a home playoff game next Friday.
“It’s huge because we can’t focus on what happened last week. We have to focus on this week and practice and play hard in the game,” said Loris senior Levi Moody, who made a number of tackles at nose guard and gained 39 yards on four carries.
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“It was important because it helps our seeding and keeps us at the top of the seeding instead of making it harder for us in the playoffs. We’re ready for the playoffs.”
Despite the loss, Aynor got into the playoffs because of Mullins’ victory over Marion on Friday, giving the Blue Jackets (5-5, 2-3) the fourth and final playoff spot out of Region VIII-AA.
“We thought we’d be a little better than what we are but finishing fourth place in Region VIII is nothing to sneeze at so we’ll take it and try to build on it,” Aynor coach Jody Jenerette said.
Though Aynor was able to move the ball against Loris’ heralded defense, which entered the game allowing only 8.8 points per game, the Lions were able to keep the Blue Jackets at a distance for most of the game with explosive plays.
Aynor ran 80 offensive plays to Loris’ 33 and gained 354 yards, and both Kamron Johnson and Daquan Smith surpassed 1,000 yards on the season despite each missing at least a game this year as Smith gained 114 yards on 24 carries and Johnson gained 86 yards on 26 carries.
“I thought we pushed them pretty good at times,” Jenerette said. “I thought we ran the ball pretty good, we just didn’t play well mentally. I reckon that’s my fault and I’ll take the blame on that. We just made some mistakes that aren’t like us that we can’t do here.”
Loris struck quickly, first on defense, then on offense.
With everything to gain with a win, Aynor rolled the dice early and converted a fourth-and-3 on its own 36-yard line just three plays into the game on a 4-yard run by Johnson.
But Smith fumbled on the next play and Marquel Bellamy scooped up the ball and scored on a 38-yard fumble return to give Loris a 7-0 lead barely 2 minutes into the game.
The Blue Jackets again tried to convert a fourth down in their own territory on their second drive, and Loris linebacker Hedien Goodman stopped Johnson for a 1-yard gain on a fourth-and-2 at the Aynor 41.
“That’s what we do,” Jenerette said. “Obviously if we give them the ball back they’re going to score pretty quick anyway, so what the point in giving it back? Give it your best effort and give your kids a chance to succeed, it just wasn’t good enough tonight.”
On Loris’ first offensive play, Williams hit Desmond Dozier over the middle for a 32-yard gain to the Aynor 10, and Williams scored on an 8-yard run around the left side after faking a handoff to Stacy Dozier to give Loris a 13-0 lead just 5:30 into the game.
Aynor drove 76 yards in 18 plays for a 2-yard TD run by Daquan Smith – converting its third fourth-down attempt along the way – to pull within a score. Loris then recovered an Aynor onside kick near midfield and scored in just three plays, as Williams hit Bellamy for a 49-yard touchdown pass. Bellamy was well covered down the right sideline but Williams dropped the ball in nicely.
That gave Loris 21 points in the opening 16 minutes despite running just six offensive plays, attributable to the defensive touchdown and a couple big plays.
A 14-yard Smith TD run around left end capped a 63-yard, nine-play drive on Aynor’s next possession to again pull the Blue Jackets within a score before a pair of long Williams passes to Junior Long set up a Moody 3-yard TD run to extend Loris’ lead to 14 points at the half.
Loris dashed Aynor’s hopes immediately after halftime. On the first play from scrimmage, Williams hit Desmond Dozier for a 60-yard touchdown pass. Dozier was well-covered down the middle, but reached around the defender to pull in the pass and continued into the end zone to give Loris a 34-14 lead.
Aynor’s next two possessions both ended inside the Loris 35 on a fumble and turnover on downs, and a 13-yard Williams touchdown run after picking up a Moody fumble in the backfield early in the fourth quarter put the Lions up by 27.
L — Marquel Bellamy 38 fumble return (Bryan Ayala kick)
L — Ta’Jay Williams 8 run (kick failed)
A — Daquan Smith 2 run (rush failed)
L — Bellamy 49 pass from Williams (Junior Long pass from Williams)
A — Smith 14 run (Kamron Johnson rush)
L — Levi Moody 3 run (Ayala kick)
L — Desmond Dozier 60 pass from Williams (kick failed)
L — Williams 13 run (Ayala kick)
Loris: Moody 4-39, Stacy Dozier 6-20, Williams 4-15, Desmond Dozier 2-18. Aynor: Daquan Smith 24-114, Kamron Johnson 26-86, Jalen Dixon 9-42, Caleb Jenerette 9-36.
Loris: Williams 9-14-1--261. Aynor: Jackson Woodle 4-6-0--43.
Loris: Desmond Dozier 4-116, Marquel Bellamy 3-93, Junior Long 2-52. Aynor: Dixon 3-21, Zack Jenerette 1-22.