Disastrous first half dooms Blue Flame

By Eugene Jolley
Courier Sports

PENDLETON — Pendleton took advantage of four first-half turnovers Friday night at Cunningham Stadium to roll to a dominant 56-14 win over Pickens.

The Bulldogs ran out to a 49-0 halftime lead, converting on two fumbles and two interceptions in the opening half.

“It was about as bad as it could be,” Pickens coach Chad Seaborn said. “Every bounce, missed tackle or turnover, everything bad that could happen did. We didn’t respond well to it as a staff or players. We just didn’t respond to it very well. Anything that could go wrong did go wrong in that first half.”

The Bulldogs had two one-play scoring drives and two three-play scoring drives in rolling to the win.

Pendleton scored on the first play from scrimmage, as Jalen Dixon went 79 yards around right end. Alex Haynes’ kick made it 7-0 just 20 seconds into the game.

Pickens had trouble on first down in the opening half. In 11 first-down plays, the Blue Flame turned it over three times, went for negative yards on three more and were hit with a penalty on another.

On their second possession, the Bulldogs marched 66 yards in 12 plays, converting on fourth and goal at the one when Dixon scored with 4:31 left in the quarter.

The Blue Flame got one of their three first-half first downs on the next drive, but Mason Covey was picked off at the 37 by Octavius Rice, who returned it to the 6-yard line, setting up Dixon’s third score of the night with 2:28 left in the quarter.

“We try and preach being more disciplined and trying not to have turnovers and penalties, because we feel like if we make a team drive the field it will give us a better chance,” Seaborn said. “If we can eat the clock up and get first downs, that’s what we want to do. That didn’t happen for us tonight. We gave them a short field several times tonight.

As a staff and as a defense, you’ve got to respond to that and the sudden change, and we didn’t. There is a lot of work left to do for sure.”
The Bulldogs covered 61 yards in five plays on the next possession. Quarterback Colin Brady threw a fade pass to Haynes for the final 37 yards and a touchdown with 11:08 left in the opening half.

Pickens gave the ball right back, as Austin Clark fumbled at the Blue Flame 8 following a bobbled kickoff. Three plays later, Darius Barksdale scored from a yard out, making it 35-0 with 9:27 left in the half.

“They’re a real good team,” Seaborn said. “We’ve got to look back and see how we’re doing things, because the week we had in practice was no reflection of what we had tonight on the field. We had a good week of practice and they seemed to bounce back well Monday after the big loss to Easley. I was proud of how they practiced this week. There is something there that we’ve got to correct.

“We faced a very good team too. If you give a very good team turnovers and a short field, they’re going to make you pay too. They did that tonight.”

The Blue Flame got a 52-yard punt from Covey on its next drive, and the defense stopped the Bulldogs, as Hayden Wheeler and Jacob Peterman tackled Jaired Humphries for a three-yard loss, forcing a Pendleton punt.

But the Bulldogs got it back four plays later, as Rice picked off Covey again at midfield. Pendleton then drove 42 yards in three plays. Barksdale, on third and one, took it the final 33 yards for a score with 2:41 left.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Clark fumbled again on the next play from scrimmage and Pendleton recovered at the 46. Five plays later, Shondra Martin scored from a yard out, making it 49-0 with 25.8 seconds left in the half.

Covey had a 32-yard keeper as the Blue Flame reached the Bulldog 19 before being sacked to end the half.

Angus Anderson started the second half with a bang for the Blue Flame, returning the opening kickoff into Pendleton territory. Pickens finally got points on the board five plays later, as Covey hit Antron Wakefield over the middle for a 26-yard scoring strike. Caleb Grant’s kick made it 49-7 with 9:22 left in the third quarter.

“We challenged them at halftime to forget about the scoreboard and try and make something positive to build on,” Seaborn said. “There were some good things in there. We got a couple of stops and got a couple of drives going there. Still there were some penalties and turnovers that we’ve got to eliminate. They could have easily not come back out so to speak in the second half. They did and they battled, and I’m proud of them for that.”

Pendleton answered, getting a 54-yard kick return from Dixon to the 38. Three plays later, Brady hit Joseph Burke for a 26-yard scoring pass with 7:40 left.

The Blue Flame fumbled on the second play of the fourth quarter but stopped the Bulldogs on fourth and two as Dalton Yates and Charlie Parris stopped a rush attempt a yard short of the first down.

The Blue Flame offense then marched 78 yards in eight plays. Clark had a 21-yard run followed by a facemask penalty. Anderson capped the drive with a one-yard dive behind center with 7:23 left, making it 56-14.
The defense came up with another big play on the next possession. Barksdale was hit by Grant and Wheeler and fumbled. Yates picked it up for Pickens at the Blue Flame 44.

Anderson had an electric 15-yard run as he took a bad pitch left and reversed field to the 17. The Blue Flame faced fourth and five at the 12 when Wakefield scored around the left end. But Pickens was called for holding, and Covey’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete with 1:19 left.
Pickens travels to county rival Liberty next week, trying to avenge last year’s 28-17 defeat. Liberty beat Travelers Rest Friday night, 48-30.
“They’re another tough team to face,” Seaborn said of Liberty. “Kyle (Stewart) is doing a great job over there with those guys. We better erase this one or flush this one in a hurry because we’ve got to get ready for them.

Seaborn said the Red Devils’ gameplan will be very similar to the one that Pendleton employed in Friday night’s lopsided contest.
“They’re going to try and run at us, and we have to do a better job of stopping the run,” Seaborn said. “We’ve got to do a better job on offense of protecting the ball and getting first down. It’s going to be a tough game. Right now I’m more concerned about us and how we’ve got to correct our stuff. Hopefully, we’ll have a better product next Friday night.”

Friday night’s game will be broadcast by WCCP-FM 104.9 with James Thurn and Donnell Clark. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.