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South Columbus scored 21 points in the first quarter and held off a furious second-half rally by West Brunswick as the Stallions knocked off the Trojans 27-14 in a critical conference showdown Friday night in Shallotte.
The Trojans, winners of their last five games after beginning the season 0-4, were guaranteed a share of the Waccamaw 2A-3A Conference crown as they entered the season’s final week as the league’s only unbeaten squad. A West victory would have ensured the school’s first outright conference championship since before the turn of the new millennium.
West entered the finale with a one-game advantage over South Columbus and East Bladen but saw its chances of maintaining its perch alone atop the standings vanish after its loss to the Stallions and East Bladen’s 7-6 victory over North Brunswick. Each team completed the regular season with one loss in conference play.
In front of the season’s largest crowd at M.H. Rourk Stadium, South Columbus quarterback Pharoah McKever spoiled West Brunswick’s Senior Night as the 6-foot-7 standout threw for a pair of touchdowns and rushed for another in arguably the most important conference game of his illustrious high school career.
South Columbus began the contest with outstanding field position at its 48-yard line, setting the tone for its opening-period offensive explosion. On the fourth play from scrimmage, McKever kept the ball on a bootleg and eluded defenders down the left sideline for a 42-yard touchdown just over a minute into the game. The Stallions converted on a two-point conversion and seized an 8-0 advantage.
Things got worse quickly for West Brunswick. The Trojans lost yardage on their first two offensive plays and a third-down pass resulted in no gain, forcing them into a punting situation. From its own 26, West could manage an 8-yard punt and South Columbus took over at the 34.
Dashaun Daniels took advantage of the good field position as the Stallions’ running back scored on a 19-yard rush with 7:10 showing on the first-quarter clock. Sam Dixon, Jr. tacked on the extra point and South led 15-0.
The Stallions recovered an onside kick at midfield on the ensuing kickoff. After a fourth-down conversion from the West 45, South marched to the 15 and stared at a third-and-short. McKever capitalized on the red zone opportunity, this time with his arm as he found Chad Fipps alone in the end zone for a 15-yard score. South Columbus held a 21-0 lead before West ran its fourth offensive play.
The teams remained scoreless for the final 16 minutes of the first half and the Trojans faced a daunting task after the break: erasing a three-touchdown deficit against a fast, physical Stallions squad.
It appeared the resilient Trojans were prepared for such a challenge.
Senior fullback Khalil Gause capped a 13-play, 63-yard march with a 10-yard touchdown rush over the right side on the opening drive of the third quarter. Daniel Locklear’s successful point-after-try trimmed West’s deficit to 21-7.
Following the score, West showed signs of life and built even more momentum after forcing South Columbus into a three-and-out on the ensuing possession. McEver’s punt attempt was tipped and sailed out-of-bounds at the South 15-yard line, leaving the Trojans a prime scoring opportunity in their foe’s territory.
Once again, Gause sparked the West Brunswick comeback charge with a 7-yard rush and subsequent late-hit penalty on the Stallions. After the ball was moved to the 4, Gause went in untouched for his second score of the tilt. Locklear booted the extra point and West was right back in the game after the disastrous start.
West had its best chance to even the contest after the Stallions fumbled on the kickoff return. West Brunswick’s Jaleel Bryant recovered at South’s 26. The Stallions used a timeout in an effort to regroup and it worked perfectly. The South Columbus defense held the Trojans to 2 yards on the next four plays and forced a turnover on downs, quelling West's hopes to tie the game following the turnover.
After stemming the West Brunswick surge, the Stallions extended their lead to 27-14 following a 76-yard drive that culminated with McKever finding Dixon Jr. for an 8-yard scoring toss with 11:22 left in the game. Daniels carried four times for 35 yards on the critical march.
With only 11 minutes remaining and trailing by a pair of touchdowns, West drove to the 5-yard line of South Columbus. Knocking on the door of the end zone, the Trojans faced a fourth-and-2 from the 5. Gause was tripped up just short of the first-down marker and the Stallions took over on downs.
South Columbus punted on the following possession and West’s last-ditch effort in the waning minutes fell short, prompting Stallions’ players and coaches onto the field for the postgame celebration after claiming their share of the conference crown.
West Brunswick head coach Fletcher said falling behind by three touchdowns was too much to overcome.
“When you’re down 21-0 in the first quarter, especially against a team like South Columbus, it’s almost impossible to come back,” he said. “I have to credit to my guys for fighting back though. Now we have to shake it off and get a streak going again next week.”
Dustin Darguzas finished the game with five completions on 11 attempts and registered 42 passing yards for West. Gause accounted for 154 yards of total offense (112
rushing and 42 receiving). His backfield mate Markel Jones notched 33 rushing yards and a pair of receptions.
McKever finished the game with 50 passing yards and 87 rushing for South Columbus while Daniels finished with 111 yards on the ground on 20 carries.
West Brunswick finished the regular season with a 5-5 record, 5-1 in league play. South Columbus finished the campaign 9-2, 5-1 in conference competition.
The game began an hour early in an effort to avoid expected inclement weather late Friday evening as a result of Hurricane Sandy. NCHSAA playoff pairings will be released this weekend as teams around the state await their playoff destinations.