After an 0-4 start, Conway could have succumbed to the idea that 2019 was going to be a lost football season.
But the Tigers did not, and by winning three consecutive games in Region 6-5A, they salvaged a runner-up league finish and first-round home playoff game.
The journey ended Friday night with a 30-21 loss to Wando at The Backyard, but not before the Tigers could gain some appreciation for their resiliency this season.
“There were ups and downs during the season and I’m proud of our guys, they stuck it out through the good times and the bad,” Conway coach Carlton Terry said. “We started out 0-4 and a lot of guys would have quit, and our guys didn’t. They came back and were able to win some games in the region to put ourselves in a position to play home in the playoffs.”
In a flag- and turnover-filled game, Conway forced four turnovers but committed five on a field that was slick from heavy overnight rain and cold temperatures.
In his final high school game, senior receiver Xavier Kinlaw had seven receptions for 148 yards and two touchdowns and an interception on defense.
“That’s Xavier,” Terry said. “Tonka [Hemingway] does it on defense and Xavier is a catalyst on offense.”
Hemingway, a senior defensive lineman and South Carolina commitment who still has the Shrine Bowl on Dec. 21 at Wofford College to play this year, lingered on the field long after the game was over to expend his emotions after his final game with his Conway teammates.
“It means a lot. I’ve been here four years since my ninth grade year and been with a lot of these guys,” Hemingway said.
The Tigers (3-7) scored two touchdowns in the final 2:15 of the first half to take a 21-16 lead at halftime but could not move the ball on offense in the second half.
“A lot of people said we didn’t deserve to be here, but I think we proved tonight that we did because our guys went out and fought and scratched,” Terry said. “The other team was just able to capitalize on some of the mistakes we made. They had turnovers and so did we. In the end they were able to capitalize and we weren’t able to do much on offense in the second half. They did a great job of applying a lot of pressure on us.”
Wando (7-3), which finished third in Region 7-5A with a 3-2 league mark, will travel to state power Dutch Fork in the second round.
Conway struck first on officially the first play from scrimmage. After the Warriors were assessed a holding penalty on the first offensive play of the game, senior linebacker Damien Wilson stripped running back Jaden Singleton of the ball and returned the fumble 35 yards for a TD.
Wando took a lead midway through the first quarter following a Conway pass interference call on third-and-goal from the 20. Quarterback Braden Pritchard hit Maken Glover for a 10-yard TD pass and Will Pickren converted a two-point conversion on a pass from a “swinging gate” unbalanced alignment.
A Conway fumble that was returned to the Tigers’ 20 set up Wando’s next scosre, a 20-yard reception byPickren, who was running free across the middle. A Dillon McCarthy two-point reception on another unbalanced lineup gave Wando a 16-7 lead.
An interception by Pickren on a deep Carlton Terry II pass on third-and-9 from midfield gave Wando possession at its 20, and the Warriors later chose to punt on fourth-and-inches at their 40.
Conway then scored twice late in the first half to take a 21-16 lead into halftime.
The Tigers scored three plays after the Wando punt, as Kinlaw caught a Terry II pass in traffic over the middle, broke a tackle and raced to the end zone for a 71-yard touchdown reception.
After Corey Green intercepted a pass that was deflected over the middle to give Conway possession at the Wando 20, Terry hit Hemingway for a 15-yard gain and later found Kinlaw for a 3-yard TD less than 2 minutes later. The TD pass was nearly intercepted but went through the arms of a Wando defender into Kinlaw’s grasp.
A low snap on a punt attempt on Conway’s opening possession of the second half gave Wando possession at Conway’s 27 and Pritchard took advantage of the short field with a 10-yard TD pass to Gabe Major to give Wando a 23-21 lead.
The teams exchanged turnovers on four of the next five drives, sandwiched around a Wando punt.
Kinlaw intercepted a pass at the Wando 35 but the Tigers gave the ball back two plays later on a fumble at the 39. Following the Wando punt, Terry was sacked and fumbled on the Conway 24, and Green got his second interception in the end zone off the hands of a wide receiver.
Wando got the ball back after a short punt on the Conway 28 and a 3-yard Will Harris touchdown reception pushed the advantage to two scores with 5 minutes to play.
“I’m proud of our seniors,” coach Terry said. “They were good leaders over the years and I’ll miss that group. Tonka got a lot of the recognition and awards but he couldn’t do it without his teammates.”
Wando 8 8 7 7 – 30
Conway 7 14 0 0 – 21
C – Damien Wilson 35 fumble return (Christopher DeWitt kick)
W – Maken Glover 19 pass from Braden Pritchard (Pritchard to Will Pickren pass)
W – Pickren 20 pass from Pritchard (Pritchard pass to Dillon McCarthy)
C – Xavier Kinlaw 71 pass from Carlton Terry II (DeWitt kick)
C – Kinlaw 3 pass from Terry (DeWitt kick)
W – Gabe Major 10 pass from Pritchard (Arthur Rocha kick)
W – Will Harris 3 pass from Pritchard (Rocha kick)
Rushing – Wando: Jaden Singleton 15-68; Conway: Zikeim Weaver 11-25, Jabraivon Woodard 10-18.
Passing – Wando: Pritchard 15-29-3–157, 4 TDs; Conway: Terry II 10-22-1–188, 2 TDs
Receiving – Wando: Glover 8-114; Conway: Kinlaw 7-148