Bulldogs’ fast start too much for Flame

PENDLETON – What do you do when you get punched in the face?

Friday night versus Pendleton, the Pickens Blue Flame took an early punch from the Bulldogs and could never recover, falling 31-10.

8-31 Page 1B.inddComing off a fine defensive effort against Easley in its season opener, Pickens couldn’t match the Pendleton intensity early. The Bulldogs came out throwing and ran very little of the wing-back attack that has been a staple at Pendleton under coach Paul Sutherland.

“In our defense, they came out and did some different things that we were not prepared for with their whole offensive set,” Pickens coach John Boggs said. “It took us a while to adjust. (Brad Johnson) ran the ball well. He was a beast early on. It took us a while to adjust.”

On the second series, Pendleton got on the board first as Johnson, a standout defensive end recruit playing tailback for the Bulldogs, took it 66 yards, bouncing off two defenders, for the score with 8:22 left in the first quarter, making it 7-0.

“He’s a heck of a player,” Boggs said of Johnson. “He’s probably not as effective defensively as he could be right now because he plays so many snaps on offense.”

The Bulldogs then went to the air for the next score, as quarterback Jamal Blakely hit JJ Walker for a 33-yard 8-31 Page 1B.inddtouchdown, splitting two defenders with 5:04 left in the opening quarter. The play came following an 18-yard loss due to a high snap, one of four in the first half.

The next Pendleton drive, the high snap came back to bite the Bulldogs, as Pickens’ Lenny Russell fell on it at the Blue Flame 27.

The offense couldn’t get going, however, and Stone Prince nailed a high punt, but an illegal procedure penalty brought it back. The next snap was bobbled, and Prince was hit and fumbled. Pendleton’s John Ammons scooped it up and ran 15 yards for the score with 9:42 left in the half making it 21-0.

“That was a big mistake on the punt team after a huge punt,” Boggs said. “Then to turn around and have that penalty, and we had the bad snap that led to the score for them — that was huge.”

On its next possession, Pendleton reached the Pickens 2-yard line before another high snap. The Bulldogs then settled for a 32-yard T.J. Williams field goal with 2:33 left in the half.

Offensively, the Blue Flame struggled until finally finding the scoreboard late in the half. The offense seemed to get going on a scramble by quarterback Tanner Stegall. He later scrambled for 20 more and then hit Cole Stewart on a nice back-shoulder fade pass for 30 down to the 10. Two plays later, Brandon Batson ran in from three yards out, making it 24-7 with 18 seconds left in the first half.

Pickens got the ball to start the second half, and Jamal Blythe had a huge 53-yard return to the Bulldog 36. Batson then ripped off a 27-yard run. The drive stalled, and Dylan Banyard kicked a 23-yard field goal with 10:20 left in the third quarter.

“I thought we battled,” Boggs said. “There at the beginning of the third quarter, made it 24-10. Jamal had another big return coming out for the second half. You get down close and then you kind of sputtered on offense the rest of the night. They were able to then control the clock, run the ball, and we gave up some first downs.

“Good teams can’t do that. You can’t make those crucial mistakes. We had a big mistake on the roughing the punter. That was huge. You can’t do that. We were still in it and had plenty of time.”

Pickens did make some big plays — Daniel Hooper picked off a pass in the end zone. But some negative plays — including a late roughing-the-punter penalty — didn’t help.

Then with 3:16 left in the game, lightning was spotted in the area and there was an hour-plus8-31 Page 1B.indd delay. When teams resumed, Stegall, who had been picked off by Dion Black before the delay, was picked off again, and this time Black ran it back 20 yards for the final score with 8.9 seconds left.

“Teams learn how to compete,” Boggs said. “This team is learning how to compete. To learn how to win, you’ve got to make those plays. You can’t let things snowball and get out of hand and be worse. That’s kind of what happened tonight.”

Pickens will play at undefeated county rival Liberty on Friday night.

“We’ve got to worry about us,” Boggs said. “We can’t look ahead to this team or that team. We’ve got to correct our mistakes and clean some things up with what we are doing wrong. We have a lot of things that we’ve got to get better at. A lot of it is youth and inexperience, but a lot of it will have to come through practice and preparation. We’ve just got to get better. I know that will be a big game for both of us.

“We’ve got a long way to go. This team has a lot of good football in it. It’s a little frustrating for them starting the season 0-2.”

Pickens made a switch on the offensive line against Pendleton, splitting up Dorian Butler and Braden Gravely, who moved from left guard to right tackle.

“Brad Johnson had a little bit to do with that,” Boggs said. “That’s probably a more a natural position for Braden anyway, getting him out there on the edges. It helped with our pass protection, too.”

Cornerback and receiver Sam Lawson limped off the field early in the third quarter and did not return.

“Sam Lawson went down tonight with some severe cramping. Hopefully he will be fine,” Boggs said. “They had to send him home. They put an IV in him, and I think they put a second bag in him when he left.”

Friday’s game will be the home opener for the Red Devils. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.