In its first season back in Class AAAA competition, the Socastee Braves accomplished something the program rarely did during its previous stint at this level with a postseason berth. While this year’s Braves earned just the sixth AAAA playoff berth in school history, it could not crack the playoff drought in the state’s highest classification.
The Braves fell to host Stratford 34-19 on Friday night in the first round of the AAAA, Division II playoffs and said goodbye to 25 seniors that helped revitalize the program. Over the past three seasons, the Braves have gone 30-7 including back-to-back undefeated regular seasons the previous two years in Class AAA.
“We got beat by a really good team tonight,” Socastee coach Doug Illing said. “I am just very proud of our group of guys for what they accomplished this year. I wish we had got a win tonight, but hats off to Stratford. They did a good job.”
It was a poor start for the Braves, who took the opening kickoff and proceeded to fumble away the ball on their first offensive snap. The Knights then scored on their first play as senior wide receiver Van Harvey hauled in a 24-yard scoring pass from senior quarterback Jamison Mobbs just 28 seconds into the game.
“You get emotionally up right there, and then you just get the bubble burst out of you, and then [Stratford] gets on an emotional high,” Illing said of the early turnover. “You need good things to happen to you in the playoffs early to keep the wave riding. It is unfortunate right there, and we dug a hole for ourselves.”
In true Socastee fashion, the Braves dominated time of possession in the opening half, but the offense could never consistently move the ball against the Stratford defense. In the first half, the Braves’ best drive ended at the Stratford 48-yard line, and they gained only 79 yards, with 30 coming on two fake punts.
“Their double wing offense is pretty hard to stop,” first-year Stratford coach Joe Marion said. “We worked on that all week long. I thought we stopped that pretty good. Then they started changing up some things and confusing our guys. … They are a very physical. So we had to make some changes personnel-wise to stop [them].”
Mobbs added a 9-yard scoring run late in the first quarter and then a 1-yard sneak for a score midway through the second quarter to give Stratford a 21-0 lead. Senior running back Xavier Young set the halftime score at 28-0 on an 8-yard run with just 34 seconds left in the first half.
Socastee showed its resolve in the second half as it tried to mount a comeback and outscored the Knights 19-6 after intermission. Senior tight end Maxwell Kjosa caught a 14-yard pass from senior quarterback Jordan Hodge on fourth down for Socastee’s first points of the game midway through the third quarter. Hodge then connected with senior Sam McKinney on a 46-yard scoring pass to cut the deficit to 31-13. The Braves’ final score came on a 90-yard kickoff return by senior McKenzie Pickney where the initial returner threw across the field to an uncovered Pickney.
“The kids have a lot of heart, that is the way they have played all year,” Illing said. “We have been down at halftime many times and came back and won. So our guys showed a lot of heart. I am very proud of them. We got to see what a different level of football was like. We have to get bigger, we have to get faster, and we have to get stronger. We are going to be OK. Our guys have got heart, and they are competitors.”
The Braves tried two fake punts and several trick plays as they fought to keep the game close, but Stratford never allowed Socastee to creep too close.
“We pulled every bullet out of our pockets and tried to create some offense. Some of them worked and some of them didn’t, but the kids had fun,” Illing said. “ … We couldn’t afford to get down like we did. That is too big of a hole to dig.”
Socastee (7-5) was led by senior running back Angelo Sauter’s 45 yards rushing on 14 carries while Hodge had 38 yards rushing along with 173 yards passing.
Stratford’s attack was keyed by the running of Xavier Young, who had 100 yards on the ground on 16 carries while Mobbs had 90 yards rushing on 14 attempts. Mobbs also threw for 105 yards.
Stratford (9-3) will host a second-round game against the winner between Spartanburg and Riverside.
STR—Van Harvey 24 pass from Jamison Mobbs (Tyler Tekac kick), 11:32
STR—Mobbs 9 run (Tekac kick), 2:31
STR—Mobbs 1 run (Tekac kick), 7:47
STR—Xavier Young 8 run (Tekac kick), 0:34
SOC—Maxwell Kjosa 14 pass from Jordan Hodge (run failed), 4:56
STR— Tekac 26 field goal, 4:09
SOC—Sam McKinney 46 pass from Hodge (Allen Mouilan kick), 3:45
STR— Tekac 41 field goal, 0:31
SOC—McKenzie Pickney 90 kickoff return (pass failed), 0:15
Socastee, Jordan Hodge 16-38, Sam McKinney 1-7, Keyon Clora 6-6, Angelo Sauter 14-45, Team 1-(-8), Buck Bacot 1-(-4). Stratford, Xavier Young (28) 16-100, Jamison Mobbs 14-90, Michael White 2-12, Kemp Shider 3-12, Team 1-(-16), J.D. Davis 1-(-2), Jordan Johnson 2-3.
Socastee, Hodge 8-24-0-173, McKinney 2-2-0-30, Bacot 1-1-0-19. Stratford, Mobbs 7-13-1-105, Davis 0-1-0-0.
Socastee, Dalton Jonas 2-30, Maxwell Kjosa 4-31, Clora 1-30, McKinney 2-63, Taylor Karnap 1-43, Bacot 1-7, Hodge 1-19. Stratford, Van Harvey 3-51, K.J. Givens 1-11, Shider 1-4.