PAGELAND, S.C. --- Strom Thurmond fumbled away its chance at postseason revenge Friday night in a 14-9 loss to Central.
The Class AA state quarterfinals loss to the Eagles, who ended Strom Thurmond's season for the second year in a row, came on four Rebel fumbles. Three turnovers came inside their own 22-yard line but only resulted in seven Central points.
The fourth fumble, however, sealed Strom Thurmond's fate.
The Rebels, who trailed 14-3 most of the game, scored late in the fourth quarter on Nick Williamson's 11-yard run. Trailing by five points with under two minutes left in the game, Strom Thurmond (10-3) got the ball back on a Hykeem Brooks interception. But Rebel quarterback Raleigh Yeldell scrambled 8 yards for a first down on the next possession and lost the ball at the end of the run.
"Everything was set up perfect at the end for us to win," Strom Thurmond coach Lee Sawyer said.
"What's heart wrenching is we had (the fumbled ball) first, then when it unpiles they had it."
Central (11-2) recovered the ball and ran the remaining 1:31 off the clock to claim the victory.
Last year's meeting between the two schools saw a pair of high-powered offenses take turns making their case for a spot in the Class AA Upper State championship game. This season's matchup saw both teams simply holding on.
"Tonight it wasn't very well played," Sawyer said. "Yes, it's frustrating to lose to the same program, but it's frustrating to lose to anybody this time of year."
Central scored all of its points in the first quarter when Mardu Smith caught a 10-yard touchdown pass, then ran in another from 4 yards out.
Smith and fellow tailback Radford Robinson combined for 152 yards rushing. The double attack kept the Strom Thurmond defense on its heels.
"Yeah, we were hesitating," senior lineman Jonathan Williams said. "We started off too slow."
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or email@example.com.
CENTRAL 14, STROM THURMOND 9
PLAY OF THE GAME: Just as Strom Thurmond was finally able to move the ball for a potential game-winning drive, quarterback Raleigh Yeldell fumbled with 1:31 left in the game to end the Rebels' final chance at a comeback.
PLAYER OF THE GAME : Central tailback Mardu Smith scored twice, once from the air and once on the ground, to give the home team enough offense to survive.
WHY CENTRAL WON : The Eagles got off to a quick start and played just well enough defensively to hold on the rest of the way.
WHY STROM THURMOND LOST : The Rebels fumbled four times to end their season at 10-3.
WHAT'S NEXT : Central will play host to Abbeville in the Class AA Upper State championship.