Bacon County’s second consecutive state playoff appearance ended the same as the first as the Red Raiders fell 41-7 at Region 3 champion Screven County on Saturday night.
The Red Raiders (6-5), who survived a mini-playoff series five days earlier to reach the Class AA state playoffs, had no answers for 10th-ranked Screven County’s offensive jaugernaut at Kelly Memorial Stadium in Sylvania.
Gamecock senior fullback Jeremy Johnson used every bit of his 250-pound body to pound the Bacon County defensive unit finishing with a game-high 151 yards on 20 carries. He scored three times adding to his season total of 32 touchdowns entering the game.
The Gamecocks (10-1), who have won eight in a row, will host Region 1 third seed Early County (8-3) on Friday. The Bobcats, winners in five of their last six games, doubled up Region 4 second seed Bleckley County (8-3) in a first round matchup, 40-20 on Friday.
Bacon County (6-5), the fourth seed from Region 2, was eliminated for the second consecutive season in the first round of the state playoffs. The Red Raiders fell 62-21 in 2011 to an eighth-ranked Seminole County squad that eventually fell in the quarterfinals.
Both first round losses for Bacon County, which has never won a state playoff game and is 1-10 all-time in post-season play, came against option offenses.
Last year, the Indians (flexbone) came into the first round matchup averaging 48.8 points a game. This year, Screven County (I-option) entered with a 36.9 scoring average.
Johnson, a senior and all-state candidate, rushed for 151 yards on 20 carries scoring on runs of 12, 34 and 14 yards pushing his season total to 35 touchdowns and 1,574 yards on the ground.
He got help from quarterback Aikeem Mingle. The senior-signal caller rushed for 57 yards and scored on runs of one and 28 yards. Mingle threw only two passes, but the one he completed went to big senior tight end Tevin Sneed for a 44-yard scoring play that got the ball rolling for the Gamecocks.
Just like a train going downhill, Screven County picked up speed and was unstoppable the longer the game went. It also didn’t help that Bacon County had a couple of crucial turnovers that set up short fields for the Gamecocks.
Screven County took the opening kick and never looked back in this one. After Johnson helped move the chains across midfield, Mingle hit Sneed on a well-timed screen play that went for 44 yards and a touchdown at the 9:29 mark of the first period. Jacob Smith kicked the PAT for the early 7-0 lead.
The Red Raiders would answer, however. Quarterback Matt Thrift directed a scoring drive that chewed up 4:21 of the clock capping the possession with a five-yard run with 5:08 left in the opening stanza. T.J. Wiley’s PAT evened the score at 7-apiece.
Thrift supplied the big play converting on a third-and-short with a 26-yard run across to move the ball into Gamecock territory.
From there, it was all Screven County.
The Gamecocks followed with a long, methodical second drive eating up the remainder of the first stanza eventually scoring with 11:15 to play in the half on Johnson’s first touchdown of the night, a 12-yard run. Smith’s kick gave Screven County the lead for good at 14-7.
After a three-and-out by Bacon County, the Gamecocks followed with another scoring drive that ended when Johnson broke loose on a 34-yard run with 7:27 left in the half. The PAT failed leaving the score at 20-7.
The score remained that way until the third period. On Bacon County’s first possession of the third quarter and facing third-and-long, Thrift’s ill-advised pass under heavy pressure was intercepted by Donta Wilburn and returned to the Red Raiders’ 23.
The Gamecocks fed Johnson on five consecutive snaps as he bulled his way down to the one setting up a one-yard sneak by Mingle. Johnson added the two-point conversion to push the lead out to 28-7 with 7:33 left in the third.
Needing an answer, Bacon County was stopped on downs on the ensuing possessions. Thrift gained nothing on a third-and-one and Drell Green was thrown for a three-yard loss on fourth down.
With a short field to work with, Screven County put a dagger in any comeback hopes for the Red Raiders. Mingle kept on an option and raced 27 yards three plays later to extend the margin to 34-7 with 1:51 on the third period clock.
The Gamecocks punched in one last score after Wilburn intercepted his second pass of the night and returned it to the Bacon County 14. The battered Red Raider defense was hit one more time by Johnson as he scored on the next play with 8:48 remaining in the game. Smith’s PAT finished off the scoring.