Daniel wins injury-shortened game

By Rocky Nimmons

CENTRAL — There are instances in sports where the game gets put on[cointent_lockedcontent]

John Bolton/ Daniel’s Jaelon Reese takes down a Palmetto ballcarrier during the Lions’ 37-7 win over the Mustangs on Friday night at Singleton Field. After Palmetto took an early lead, the Daniel defense turned up the pressure and held the Mustangs to just 60 yards of total offense in the dominating win, the program’s 500th all-time victory.

John Bolton/
Daniel’s Jaelon Reese takes down a Palmetto ballcarrier during the Lions’ 37-7 win over the Mustangs on Friday night at Singleton Field. After Palmetto took an early lead, the Daniel defense turned up the pressure and held the Mustangs to just 60 yards of total offense in the dominating win, the program’s 500th all-time victory.

the back burner, when life and doing the right thing are bigger than competition.

Those in attendance on Friday night at Singleton Field in Central saw one of those moments that transcends the game.

With a little more than six minutes to play, the Daniel Lions and Palmetto Mustangs came together at midfield to say a prayer. The moment was emotional. The moment was spiritual. The moment will be remember for years to come.

The Lions were in command, up 37-7, when Palmetto’s Austin Lowe sustained a devastating injury on the Mustang sideline after taking a hit. The game was stopped and the stadium grew silent in fears for the worst. After nearly 30 minutes of treatment, an ambulance came onto the field, as doctors, trainers and coaches bunched up around the fallen player.

At that moment, something remarkable occurred, as the entire Lions team grouped together and marched across the field, gathering the Palmetto team at midfield, where all the players kneeled in prayer for the fallen player.

As Lowe was loaded into the ambulance, the coaches gathered and agreed to end the game. A single second was put on the clock, and as it ticked away, the final score of the game was an afterthought to the great sportsmanship displayed by the two teams and good wishes for Lowe.

“Nobody wants to see any injury,” Daniel head coach Randy Robinson said. “That one scared everybody in the stadium. I am just thankful that the initial reports, as he left the stadium in the ambulance, were positive. The doctors took good care of him and got him stabilized, so hopefully he will be OK.

“I have never been more proud of my boys than when I turned around and saw them in the middle of the field praying for a guy they don’t even know. The cared enough for him to pray for him. I really appreciated that.”

Before the emotional end, the Lions played their best game of the season. The Daniel offense amassed 342 yards of offense, most of which came on the ground, as the Lions’ defense produced a textbook performance, holding a good Mustang offense to only 60 yards.

The 37-7 victory marked the 500th win in school history at Daniel, but it didn’t look like it was going to be so lopsided at the start.

On the game’s first snap Daniel sophomore quarterback Ben Batson was stripped of the ball, with the Mustangs recovering deep in Lion territory.

Taking over at the 10, Palmetto pushed the ball into the end zone on a five-play drive thanks to one-yard run by Mustang quarterback Shaw Crocker with 9:29 to play in the first quarter. Crocker also added the PAT to give Palmetto the early 7-0 lead.

The Lions looked like they were in for a fight. The early turnover seemed to fire up the Mustangs, and they came out and forced the Lions to punt quickly the next time Robinson’s troops had the ball.

Taking over at its own 28-yard line after the Justin Craig punt, Palmetto was moving the ball again. The Mustangs marched 46 yards in 11 plays down to the Daniel 24, but that was all as the Lion defense rose up and held on a fourth and six. In the first two series, Palmetto mustered 56 yards, but amazingly the Lion defense held them to only four yards of offense the rest of the game.

“We are starting to show some resiliency, playing together,” Robinson said. “We turned it over and give up a touchdown by putting the defense in a bad spot. Our defense from there on out was awfully good.

“I am so proud of our defense. We have been close defensively. Tonight we put it all together. Last week was a good shutout, don’t get me wrong. Tonight we played a quality opponent. They have some guys that can go, and we shut them down.”

The Lions got rolling on their next possession and pushed the ball down to the Palmetto 10 before the drive stalled. Kicker Rivers Sherrill came on and nailed a 27-yard field goal to give his team three points with 11:06 to play in the half.

The Columbia blue and gold got into the end zone on their next possession, putting together a seven-play, 61-yard drive. Running back Stephon Kirksey set the tone, blasting 30 yards on first down. Kirksey had the best game of his career, mounting 141 yards on 25 carries on the night, along with two touchdowns. The touchdown came on an eight-yard run by Batson, behind some tremendous blocking by his offensive line.

Sherrill tacked on the PAT with 6:33 to play in the half, and the rout was on as Daniel went up 10-7.

The defense continued to dominate and forced a turnover on the next Mustang series. It looked like a pick-six for the Lions, but a block in the back on the return brought the Daniel offense back out with the ball at the Palmetto 34.

The minor setback didn’t slow the Lions, as Batson got 22 yards on first down. The play was followed by a pair of Kirksey runs, the first for nine yards and the second for the final three and a touchdown. Sherrill aced the extra point, and the Lions were up 17-7 just 64 seconds after their last touchdown.

Palmetto just couldn’t handle the Lion defense, and again it was a three-and-out for the Mustangs.

Robinson’s team took the Palmetto punt and put the ball in play at the Mustang 35. Batson found Jacob Wichelns for nine yards. Then it was Kirksey for 15. A bad snap cost the Lions eight yards on play number three, but the mistake was made up for when Batson took the next snap and raced 19 yards for a touchdown. Sherrill’s PAT was blocked, and the half ended with the Lions out front 23-7.

In the second half, it was more of the same, the Lions’ stifling defense kept the pressure on and gave their offense short fields to work with.

The Lions scored the first time they had the ball after the intermission on a seven-play, 46-yard drive that was capped by a seven-yard touchdown run by Kirksey with 7:35 to play. Sherrill nailed the PAT, and the Lions led 30-7.

The Lions managed one more drive before the game was called. The series lasted 12 plays and went 75 yards. Back up running back Marniellius Cobb got the final call and went in from a yard out with 50 seconds left to five the Lions a 37-7 lead that held up for a win.

“Our offense felt like we could wear them down,” Robinson said. “We obviously didn’t throw the ball as well as we expected to, but I’ll tell you what — the running game was great tonight.”

Like Kirksey, Batson had a career game. The quarterback showed his ability to run with 60 yards and two touchdowns.

“They gave us a few things with the quarterback because they kept chasing Stephon,” Robinson said. “I told the guys on the sidelines, ‘we have to get whatever they give us and take advantage of it.’”

This Friday, the Lions will be seeking revenge when Wren comes to Singleton Field. Last year, Daniel went from first to fourth place in the Western AAA when a single play changed the outcome of the battle between the two schools, as a fumble that was called a spiked pass caused the Lions to fall to the Hurricanes.

“I sure hope our team has a chip on their shoulder and remember last year’s game,” Robinson said. “That was a sickening feeling to lose the region on one bad call, so I am hoping our guys will be fired up at practice next week.”

Robinson knows the Hurricanes will be talented and the game will be won or lost on the field.

“Wren has a quarterback that can run and throw it around,” Robinson said. “They have a receiver that is probably all-region, so our defense will have a big challenge again on Friday. I’m excited to see them take on the challenge.”