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Gators rally to take down L-E

Posted: September 10, 2018 3:16 p.m.
Updated: September 11, 2018 1:00 a.m.
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LUGOFF-ELGIN’S ETHAN WOLFE bats down a pass intended for River Bluff’s Jacob Hutto in Friday’s game in Lexington.

LEXINGTON -- Sometimes you have to take the good with the bad. 

That was the story Friday night as Lugoff-Elgin lost its fourth straight game to start the 2018 season. Host River Bluff got some big plays on offense and special teams to propel itself over the visiting Demons, 28-18.

L-E (0-4) has shown progression each week in all of its losses. In this one, they not only had the lead in the second half, but showed positives in many areas. Both teams actually learned quite a bit about themselves in the contest as the Gators (4-0) had never trailed in a game this year before Friday. The hosts were held in check after having scored 60 points in two of their three previous wins. 

“I’m proud of our kids. We fought hard,” said L-E head coach Matt Campbell. “It was a game of big plays. You had the tight seam, the halfback pass, the kickoff return, too. That’s 21 of their points right there. We had some big plays of our own, too. And our defense played hard and physical; maybe for the first time all season, and more consistent.”

As Campbell pointed out, it took three big plays for River Bluff to get into the end zone with two of those coming early in the first half. 

The Gators scored on their first drive of the game as Braden Walker got it in the backfield on a halfback pass and tossed it to a wide open Damone Spencer for a 44-yard score. The drive went eight plays, going 76 yards. After a series of exchange of punts, the Demons capped a 12-play drive which stalled inside the 10. Alex Bowers chipped in a 26-yard field goal to bring the game within four points. 

On the ensuing kickoff, however, Walker scored his 10th touchdown of the season with an 85-yard return for a score as he just found a wedge and bolted. 

Campbell was very impressed with the Gator do-it-all athlete. 

“He’s a heck of a player. He’s special,” he said of Walker. “He didn’t have over 400 all-purpose yards in the first week by chance. We knew coming in if he touched the ball it was a chance of him breaking it. I thought we kept him in check in the running game. We controlled him there in the run game but the halfback pass beat us and the kick return, we left a lane open. “

After the kickoff return, RB led, 14-3, going into the second quarter. 

The Demons created opportunities for themselves with turnovers. It looked bleak before those happened, however, as the Gators were going in for another score driving inside the 15 yard line only for L-E defensive back Eli McGee to intercept a pass to keep the Gators out of the end zone. 

On the next River Bluff drive, L-E would, again, get a turnover as David Pillard stripped the ball for a fumble with teammate Ethan Hix getting the recovery. 

“That was big,” Campbell said of the turnover. “Our defense was flying around there in that quarter. I just can’t say enough about them. I thought they really showed up against two good backs and a good offense which all have the chance to be really prolific this season.” 

From there, the Demons marched 52 yards in seven plays with a four-yard touchdown keeper by quarterback Josh Gary. L-E then went for two, and converted after a penalty moved the ball half the distance to the goal to make the score 14-11 with just over a minute left in the half. 

It was a slightly new look on offense for L-E which tried to load up on blockers and backs putting three in the backfield and going heavy on one side. 

“We jumped back into our three-back set tonight,” Campbell said of the offensive attack. “We’re always going to be looking. This Sunday, when I start preparing (for Friday’s game with Fort Mill), I’m going to go in and see what I can do better with this offense. 

“Do we build off of this or something else? The thing is, the scheme is the same so it’s not taking away from the kids or adding anything. It’s just changing formations and flopping assignments. Our kids accepted it well and played physical.”

The Demons then did something else they have not done all season, and that’s carry momentum gained from one drive and turn it into another. L-E got a huge kickoff return from Randall Brown, who broke free up the far sideline before finally being tackled at the Gator 31 yard line, on the second half kickoff. Brown was rewarded for the return with a touchdown run from five yards away. And for the first time this season, Lugoff-Elgin had a lead in the second half of a game going up 18-14. 

Campbell knew the sequence would be crucial. 

“We knew going into halftime, with that drive there we would have to take that momentum and excitement and carry that somehow into the third quarter and we did,” he said. “To see them come out and convert all that into points … that long third quarter drive and sustain it. We had some big plays and penalties thrown in there but we overcame it.”

The teams traded punts thereafter and it was unfortunate because Demon fans were hoping they would score on three straight trips. Gary, a sophomore, had some great opportunities with open receivers with deep balls and intermediate routes but just missed. He really progressed even on throwing the ball away when in trouble, where he would have been sacked in previous weeks. 

“We had some opportunities,” Campbell said of the passing game. “(Gary) threw a couple of balls high but here’s the thing, he is starting to see things better. That’s a good thing and a step forward in his progress. The way it’s been in these first few weeks, I have to take every bit of positive that I see and Josh had open receivers but was a bit high. He’s making the good reads, so all that will start coming together.”

River Bluff then took advantage of field position after a good return off a punt and drove it 57 yards for a touchdown to take the lead. Walker found the edge on an option run for 13 yards to put the Gators up for good at 21-18. 

With the Gators gimmick-type offense running read option and misdirection, one had to wonder if L-E made some halftime adjustments on both sides. And on offense, with the offense, moving the ball, do you add anything to it? 

“We made a few adjustments on offense and defense, but we felt like what we had was good in terms of the game plan and what we were doing,” Campbell said. 

“We got hard yards. That’s the kind of team we are and the coach that I am. We are willing to take four yards here and there. Eventually, you get to the goal line. We talked about a few adjustments on defense about what they were showing us.” 

After yet another three and out, the Gators made it a two-score game with a play to the tight end where big, 6-foot-3 target Cleburne Gray was wide open down the seam and took it near side 54 yards for a touchdown. That put the score just out of reach at 28-18. 

The Demons would have the ball with five minutes left and a chance to put two drives together but the drives stalled. 

It was tough for an offense predicated on running the football to almost be forced to put it in the air consistently. 

“They know the situation,” Campbell said. “At that point, it’s kind of like just going seven-on-seven or, running things in practice. They know it’s a throwing situation. All they have to do is drop back. That defense just pinned their ears back and then, rush the passer. It was a tough situation for us to be in.” 

The Gators would run out the clock get the win making it their best start in school history. For L-E, they are worried about putting together four full quarters and getting a win of their own. But they showed some good,  --- in many areas of the game --- even in a loss. 

“I told them I was proud of fighting. It’s the most physical we have played,” Campbell said of his postgame talk to his players. “This is a bit more in tune of the style of how we need to play if we are going to be successful. From game one to two and three to tonight, we took some big steps today. With 34 kids out there, we are going to have to be in great shape. And we may have gotten a little tired in the fourth quarter.”

Demon Doings: Unofficially, L-E had 230 yards of total offense … Brown had 84 tough yards on 22 carries … Gary had a career high in rushing yards as he carried it 10 times for 55 yards and a touchdown He also threw for 77 yards with an interception … The Demons had 10 first downs to 14 for River Bluff while both teams committed two turnovers … The Gators had 335 yards of total offense … L-E did in fact keep Walker in check for most of the night on the ground as he only had 78 yards but Antonio Gantt had some big gains on 14 carries as he ended with 114 yards … Penalties were, unfortunately, part of this game, on both sides combining for 20 total infractions ... Defensively for L-E, Eli McGee added 11 tackles to his interception while Ethan Wolfe and Hix had seven solo stops with both players adding three for loss. Tyquan Wright had three more tackles for loss of yardage. for the visitors. 


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