ORANGEBURG, S.C. --- Williston-Elko wrapped up a perfect season Friday afternoon by overcoming a not-so-perfect start in the Class A Division II state championship game.
The Blue Devils earned the state title with a 34-26 win over Scott's Branch, but they trailed the defending champs by eight points after a sluggish first half. Williston-Elko quarterback Tamyn Garrick completed only three of 13 passes and the rushing duo of Dexter Staley and Kendric Salley combined for 8 yards on 11 carries through the first two quarters.
"I don't know if it was the low point in the season, but it was pretty bad right there," Garrick said. "That was the time we had to realize that these guys were good. They smacked us in the face, so to speak, and we had to answer."
Garrick responded by competing all four of his second-half passes for 79 yards and a touchdown in the second half. Staley rushed for three second-half scores. The spark started when senior Ondrew Bellinger returned the opening kickoff of the second half 43 yards to midfield. Staley scored two plays later on a 47-yard run.
Scott's Branch tailback Quinton Singleton, who rushed for 201 yards and three TDs on 41 carries, was stuffed on fourth-and-6 on the next possession by middle linebacker Marcus Bates to force a turnover on downs. Garrick found Demetrius Facison on the second of two TD passes between them to give the Blue Devils a 22-14 lead with 4:01 left in the third quarter.
"I knew sooner or later we'd have a chance (throwing the ball)," Williston-Elko coach Dwayne Garrick said. "We hit a couple up the seam, which was huge for us."
The next score came on fourth-and-10 on the Scott's Branch 41-yard line and marked the second of three fourth-down plays that Williston-Elko converted into touchdowns.
"I was considering punting on that one," Dwayne Garrick said. "It was a tie game, and we could have pinned them way back there. But we decided to take anther shot."
Scott's Branch climbed to within two points twice in the fourth quarter, but Williston-Elko answered each time with a touchdown to regain control.
Tamyn Garrick finished with 136 passing yards and two touchdowns. Staley rushed for 136 yards on 19 carries and three touchdowns despite playing with an injured shoulder that limited him in practice earlier in the week.
"I was at about 60 percent. It was hurting during the game," Staley said. "But it's the last game of the season, and you've got to suck it up and play no matter what."
Staley sealed the victory in the final minute when Williston-Elko, leading by two points and facing third-and-2 at midfield, broke through the left side for a 49-yard touchdown run.
The state championship is the first for Williston-Elko since 1980. The Blue Devils played for a state title last season but lost to Scott's Branch 14-6 on a pair of fourth-quarter turnovers.
Williston-Elko played turnover-free ball Friday to earn revenge.
"The only real difference (on the field) this year was we were able to block out all the noise," Tamyn Garrick said. "We knew what was coming. We just had to come back and do it."
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WILLISTON-ELKO 34, SCOTT'S BRANCH 26
PLAY OF THE GAME: On fourth-and-10 from the Scott's Branch 41, Williston-Elko's Tamyn Garrick found Demetrius Facison for a third-quarter TD that gave the Blue Devils their first lead of the game.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Dexter Staley , playing with an injured shoulder, scored three second-half touchdowns and had 136 yards rushing.
WHY WILLISTON-ELKO WON: The Blue Devils' balanced offense kept Scott's Branch on its heels and allowed Williston-Elko to make a comeback.
WHY SCOTT'S BRANCH LOST: The Eagles' run-only offense was effective but didn't work when they needed a quick score late in the game.
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