Flame open region with win against TR

By Eugene Jolley
Courier Sports

TRAVELERS REST — The Travelers Rest Devildogs feature a “ground and pound” offensive attack this year.

Friday night at Dean “Chico” Bolin Stadium, the Pickens Blue Flame gave the Devildogs some of their own medicine in taking a 42-6 Region II-AAA opening win.

Pickens (2-2, 1-0) overcame four first-half turnovers and scored touchdowns on all four second-half possessions in rolling to the win. The Flame didn’t attempt a pass in the second half, rolling up 277 rushing yards in the final two quarters and 339 for the game.

“They played very well, both sides, but offensively they got to clicking there,” Pickens coach Chad Seaborn said. “We went to the wishbone some and started pounding it a bit. Our kids responded well with that. I was very pleased with them.

“We turned it over too much in the first half of course,” Seaborn said. “We could have put more points on the board. Defense played great on the short field several times. It was an all-around team effort. Special teams, we did well there too. This is one I hope that we can build on and get ready for next week.”

Things didn’t start out well for the Blue Flame, as again the turnover bug hit. Following a short Travelers Rest punt on the first possession of the game, Pickens started at its own 40. But three plays later, quarterback Austin Clark fumbled, and Demetrius Anderson recovered for the Devildogs.

They made it pay off three plays later, as on third and one at the 38, Toriano Pone popped loose from a pack of defenders for a 38-yard touchdown run. The two-point pass was broken up by Tanner Saunders with 7:16 left in the first quarter.

Pickens had to punt on its next possession, but the Devildogs ran into punter Caleb Grant for a first down. The drive was continued and Clark hit Antron Wakefield, who made a tremendous one-handed catch for 28 yards to the Devildog 8-yard line.

“I was already saying ‘dadgum it,’” Seaborn said of the catch, where it looked like Wakefield had jumped too soon. “Then our kids went crazy, and I realized he had caught the thing. It was an unbelievable catch by Antron. We’ve got young kids making plays for us and are getting better each week. We’re excited about where things are headed.”

Two plays later, senior Angus Anderson scored from three yards out behind right guard Casey Stewart, making it 7-6 on Grant’s kick with 4:13 left in the quarter.

Things would be sloppy for the Blue Flame offense the rest of the half, fumbling at their own 41 and their own 12. But the defense came up big, stopping the Devildogs, once by punt, and another on downs as Pone was stopped for no gain on fourth down at the four by Hayden Wheeler, Charlie Parris and Wakefield.

Later, the special teams came up with a big play as Travelers Rest tried a fake punt. Kavasea Sullivan was stopped by Dalton Yates and Parris for a 10-yard loss at the Travelers Rest 35.

Keyed by a pass interference penalty, the Blue Flame capitalized when Anderson scored on a pitch left from four yards out with 35.6 seconds left in the half. Grant’s kick made it 14-6.

Pickens got the ball back once more before the halftime buzzer when Zack Roper recovered a fumble, but Clark was picked off in the end zone to end the half.

The second half was all Pickens, as the Flame marched 52 yards in seven plays on their opening drive. Cameron Holder ran the final 17 for the score behind blocks by Parker Lambright, Alex Dalton and Gunner Covey. Grant’s kick made it 21-6 with 9:13 left in the quarter.

Defensively, the Blue Flame continued to keep the Devildogs hemmed in on the ground. When Travelers Rest went to the air it didn’t work either, as Saunders picked off AJ Gilbert at the Blue Flame 12.

The Blue Flame faced fourth and one at their own 21 and lined up with a full-house backfield to go for it when the Devildogs jumped offside. Once again, Pickens made the mistake hurt with points, as on the next play, Anderson took a pitch right, got a block from Wakefield, and then out-stepped one final defender at about the 40 en route to a 74-yard touchdown run with 4:58 left, making it 28-6.

“We just need to get him the ball a little more,” Seaborn said of Anderson. “He’s not set one side or the other where you can get to him that way. We can give it to him as the fullback, or out of the I (formation). He’s a special player, and we’ve got to get it in his hands as much as possible.”

“The little move he made there was great, and he was gone,” said Seaborn. “His acceleration has gotten better. He’s a tough, tough player and I’m glad he’s on our side.”

Again, the defense came up with another big play as Saunders picked off a second pass and returned it to the Blue Flame 41. This time, the offense scored in nine plays, with Wakefield taking it the final seven for the score with 9:25 left, making it 35-6 on Grant’s kick.

Pickens forced a punt, but on the play two players were ejected for late personal foul penalties, including linebacker Yates of Pickens. He will likely have to sit out next week.

“That’s just a discipline thing and keeping your cool,” Seaborn said. “They caught both of them. I hate it. He hates it the most now. That’s what I told him, is that your actions are going to affect others.”
The Blue Flame went 60 yards to cap the scoring with reserves taking care of business. Clark had a big 41-yard run in the drive, and Jacob Addington had another for 15. Clark took it the final three on a keeper behind center DJ Roper with 1:52 left.

Both teams had two weeks to prepare for the game, and the Blue Flame’s coaching staff was a bit nervous that the Devildogs would change their approach over their bye week.

“We hoped they wouldn’t change up, and if they did that they wouldn’t have much time to implement it,” Seaborn said. “We just went on what we had seen and what they had done and just tried to pick up on some tendencies and stuff. The defensive staff and offensive staff did a great job of prepping our kids these two weeks. You saw the proof tonight.”
Pickens returns home for homecoming Friday night against Eastside.

“We’re looking forward to getting back home,” Seaborn said. “We haven’t been there since the first game of the year. Hopefully our fans will come out in good numbers. Eastside will be a little bit different. We’ve seen with Easley, Pendleton, Liberty and TR where they kind of pack it in and run. As far as defensively goes, they’ll be spreading it.

Hopefully we can build on this and correct some mistakes and get ready for a good Eastside team and hopefully keep doing well in our region.”
Eastside lost in its region opener to Blue Ridge, 82-20, Friday night.