Fourth-down stops doom Pickens against archrival Easley


By Bru Nimmons
Staff Reporter

CENTRAL — After a promising 2-0 start to the 2021 season, the Pickens Blue Flame have been plagued by late-game struggles, and those struggles continued on Saturday afternoon, as they were outscored 21-0 in the second half by rival Easley in a 42-14 loss.

“I give Easley a ton of credit,” Pickens head coach Chad Smith said. “Coach (Jordan) Durrah and his staff made some adjustments, did some good things and kinda slowed us down in the second half. It is what it is.”

The Pickens offense had plenty of success moving the ball on Easley, but continued stops in Green Wave territory piled on top of each other as the game went on, and the Blue Flame couldn’t afford to be slowed down on a day where their defense struggled to contain Easley quarterback A.J. Brown.

Brown accounted for more than 350 yards of offense and six scores, leaving little room for error for the Blue Flame.

“If you do anything that’s undisciplined, he’s going to make you pay,” Smith said. “He’s a great athlete — somebody is going to get a steal with that young man.”

While the Blue Flame got far from the result they wanted, they can take solace in the play of backs Andon Rogers and Carter McCollum. Rogers broke the 1,000-yard mark on the season in the fourth quarter, and McCollum had a career day on the ground as he continues to start at fullback in place of the injured Brennan Perkins.

“People are going to be talking about Carter McCollum for years to come,” Smith said of his freshman fullback. “He’s an amazing player and he’s an even better young man. We can really build around him.”

The Blue Flame got the ball right out of the gate, but a bad pitch by Pickens quarterback Ryan Ford led to a seven-yard loss and an early punt.

Pickens’ struggles began on the ensuing Easley possession, with the Green Wave taking over at their own 42 and quickly moving down the field on a 51-yard pass from Brown to Ethan Alexander. One play later, Brown hit receiver Chris Clemons on a nine-yard touchdown to take a 7-0 lead just three minutes into the game.

McCollum got the Pickens offense moving on its next possession with a 13-yard gain. Alongside Ford, McCollum moved the Flame into Easley territory, but two short runs and a run for a loss by Rogers had them facing a fourth and four at the Easley 39. Luckily for Pickens, Ford found an open C.J. Hooper for a 19-yard gain to get into the red zone.

Ford and McCollum quickly picked up a first down to get inside the 10, but things got dire in a hurry, as they soon faced a fourth and goal from the 1-yard line. The Blue Flame turned to their senior signal caller on the play, and it paid off with a rushing touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 late in the first.

The Green Wave offense responded in short order, going 61 yards in five plays, including a 12-yard passing touchdown from Brown to Seth Boyles to give Easley a 14-7 lead heading to the second quarter.

McCollum and Ford continued to shine, carrying the Blue Flame close to midfield, where they faced a third and two. On the play, Ford’s struggles with the pitch returned, but Rogers managed to salvage the play by picking the ball up and gaining 12 yards. Now at the Easley 33, the Green Wave defense hunkered down, forcing multiple carries for no gain. Facing a fourth and six, Ford went to the air again, hitting Rogers, who came up just a yard short of the first down and turning it over on downs.

Just two plays after the turnover, Brown broke loose from the Pickens defense and ran free for a 77-yard touchdown to increase the lead to 21-7 with a little less than seven minutes left in the half.

Down two scores, the Blue Flame kept to their hard running approach and picked up big gains on runs by Rogers and McCollum. Getting back inside the Easley 30, the Blue Flame faced consecutive stops by Easley, forcing them to go to the air, when Green Wave linebacker Noah Pierce sacked Ford for a five-yard loss.

Facing a fourth and 12 from the Easley 29, Ford returned to the air on fourth down and hit receiver Jaden Jackson on a desperation throw to not only convert, but score a 29-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 21-14 heading to halftime.

The Blue Flame faced a disadvantage coming out of the locker room, as a personal foul on the final play before the break allowed the Green Wave to take over from their own 49-yard line. Easley took advantage of great field position and multiple offside penalties, going 51 yards in eight plays, including a one-yard touchdown run by Brown to give the Wave a 28-14 lead.

Needing a score, McCollum took over, picking up 45 yards on his first two carries to get to the Easley 25. With McCollum teaming up with Ford, the Blue Flame offense picked up eight yards on the next three plays to face a fourth and two at the Easley 17. Ford tried to push forward to keep Pickens alive, but only managed one yard to turn it over on downs.

The Flame continued to shoot themselves in the foot on the next possession, picking up two personal fouls and an offsides penalty that allowed Easley to quickly move into Pickens territory. Five plays later, Brown hit Myles Martin for a 10-yard screen pass touchdown to give Easley a 35-14 lead with 2:01 left in the third.

The Blue Flame struggles continued heading to the fourth quarter with two straight punts, while the Easley offense added seven more on another Brown touchdown.

The Blue Flame had one last shot to score after a strip sack by Brody Miller and recovery by Ethan Medlin. However, the drive came up short in the final seconds, giving the Blue Flame a 42-14 loss.

Depite the loss, the Blue Flame’s playoff hopes are still alive as they prepare to travel to Travelers Rest this Friday night.

“Pretty much, looking at it, since TR beat Walhalla, if we beat them, there will be a three-way logjam for the playoffs,” Smith said. “That’s all you can ask for, and that’s what we’re gunning for.”