Last-minute FG lifts Lions to home win

John Bolton/
Daniel senior kicker Nick Muchow celebrates after hitting the game-winning field goal to give the Lions a 20-19 win over Greenville on senior night Friday night at Singleton Field.

By Rocky Nimmons

CENTRAL — “Muchow-Mania” ran wild Friday night at Singleton Field, as Daniel senior kicker Nick Muchow sent a 36-yard field goal through the uprights in the game’s waning seconds to ice a huge 20-19 region victory over the Greenville Red Raiders on senior night.

The Daniel fans were more raucous than they have been all season as the Lions (5-4, 1-2 Region I-4A) posted their first region win of the year and moved one step closer to making the playoffs in their final home contest of the season.

As a team, the Lions played perhaps their most complete game of the season, with the offense moving the ball when it had to, the defense making stops and special teams delivering at crucial times.

10-26 Page 1B.inddThe game was a back-and-forth affair late, with both teams having a shot at victory. When the smoke cleared and the dust settled, the Lions survived against a strong Greenville squad.

“I think we are definitely getting better,” Daniel coach Jeff Fruster said after the game.

Fruster said he had stressed to his players all week the importance of getting better in all phases of the game — offense, defense and special teams — and putting together a complete game. The game was the closest his Lions have come all season.

“We are still working on it, but we took a step in the right direction here tonight,” he said. “I tell everybody, there is still some fight in these dogs yet.”

The Columbia blue and gold got on the scoreboard first on a five-play drive that started at the Lions’ 26-yard line. On the first two plays, Fruster called on his young running back Billy Bruce, and the freshman answered with five yards. Daniel quarterback Ben Batson picked up a Lion first down on the next snap, and a yard a play later. Then it was time for the Daniel faithful to get a glimpse of the future, as Bruce again had his number called, and the young back followed some outstanding blocks, breaking free for a 62-yard scamper for the score. Muchow trotted on and hammered home the PAT, and the Lions were on top 7-0 with 8:13 to play in the first quarter.

Greenville’s defense stepped up the next time the Lions had the ball, with the Raiders forcing a Lion punt from their own 9-yard line. Muchow was called on to punt, but didn’t get a good piece of the ball, only sending it 18 yards before it sailed out of bounds.

Starting at the Daniel 27, Greenville quickly mounted a drive. In three plays, the Raider stormed into the end zone. The touchdown came on a 24-yard pass from Greenville quarterback Davis Beville to running back Jahmein Dendy with 2:56 to play in the first. Daniel’s Peter Cote zoomed around the end and managed to get a hand on the extra point to preserve the Lions’ lead at 7-6.

The Daniel defense halted the Raiders the next time they had the ball, but Fruster’s offense could not gain any momentum and was forced to punt the next time it had the ball.

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John Bolton/
Daniel’s Billy Bruce breaks free for a 63-yard touchdown in the first quarter of Friday’s game against Greenville.

Greenville finally took the lead late the half on a 96-yard drive that lasted seven plays. Taking over following a Muchow punt at their own 4-yard line, the Raiders relied on power running by bruising back Danyaus Wiliams-Byrd. Byrd hammered his way for 15 yards on three carries. It was Beville’s arm, though, that did the most damage, as he fired a long pass down the field to wide receiver Tydricus Hellams that turned into a 61-yard score with 8:02 to play in the half. Greenville elected to go for a two-point conversion, only to have a false-start penalty push the attempt back to the 7-yard line. The Raiders then elected to call on kicker Jack Henegan to kick the extra point. The kick was good, giving Greenville a 13-7 lead that remained intact until intermission.

The Lions pulled closer after the break. The offense managed a 10-play, 53-yard drive that was helped along midway through with a nice pass and catch from Batson to wide receiver Isaac Weaver that picked up 26 yards, all the way down to the Greenville 10-yard line. The series stalled following the big catch, forcing Fruster once again to rely on special teams to make a play. Muchow again was the man, and the senior nailed a 30-yarder with 5:28 to play in the third to bring the Lions to within three points at 13-10.

10-26 Page 1B.inddThose who have followed the Lions over the years saw a sight many would say was a flash back to the 1990s. Fruster called on freshman Cody Barnes to go in at running back. Barnes’ father, Chris Barnes, was one of the memorable stars of the Lions’ “team of the ‘90s,” punishing opposing defenses with hard-nosed power running. The younger Barnes looked the spitting image of his dad, pounding the rock five times for 29 yards. Batson finished the drive with a beauty of a pass, hitting senior Will Swinney streaking downfield on a post pattern from 32 yards out for a touchdown. Muchow stayed perfect and aced the PAT, giving the Lions the lead at 17-13 with only 9:36 to play.

It was now up to Daniel defensive coordinator Kirk Ellison to get his unit to halt the Raiders. The next time Greenville had the pigskin, the Lions did just that. Ellison’s unit held on a fourth down and eight from the Daniel 18 to give the Lion offense possession.

The offense was stymied, however, and again had to punt the ball away.

It was do-or-die time for the Raiders, and Greenville mounted a 49-yard series that lasted eight plays and ended with a 21-yard keeper by Beville for a touchdown, giving Greenville the lead with only 2:06 to play. A PAT would have given the Raiders a three-point lead, but the kick missed its mark, leaving the score at 19-17 and the door open for the Lions to reclaim the lead with a field goal.

That is when the Lions showed their hearts and will to win.

Following the ensuing kickoff, Daniel started at its own 21 and needed field goal for the win. Batson began with a pair of runs that gained 14 yards to the 35. He then went back to the air and again fired a pass to Swinney, this time picking 18 yards and getting into Greenville territory at the 47-yard Line. Bruce added a couple of yards, followed by another strike to Swinney for 18 more, all the way down to the Raider 27 and earning a first down as time slipped away. Three snaps later, Batson again went to the air, this time hitting Brysen Smith for 10 yards with less than 15 seconds to play. Fruster decided this was the time to strike, and on first down he called on Muchow to win it or lose it then and there.

With the tension so thick you could cut it with a knife, Muchow had icewater in his veins and trotted out for the kick. The play was complete — a great snap, nice blocking up front and a smooth hold by Swinney. Muchow did the rest, splitting the uprights for the 36-yard field and a 20-19 win.

“I knew that we could persevere,” Fruster said. “I knew that we had what it took, both mentally and physically. We could drive the ball a little bit — just get us in field goal range and give our kicker a chance so we could try to win the game on the leg of a senior.”

Fruster said he expected those things on senior night.

“If you don’t, you obviously have some holes in the program,” he said. “I told our seniors all week that we were going to lean on them, and they came through in the clutch. I could not be more proud of those kids tonight. At the end of the day, you want to see your team fight. I have been preaching that the entire time. If we never give up, then anything is possible.”

The victory, however sweet, is not the end. The Lions still have their annual cross-county rivalry game with Pickens left to continue to jockey for playoff positioning. With the effects of Hurricane Matthew throwing Lowcountry teams out of sync with the Upstate, playoffs have been moved to start two weeks later this year. The change allowed for many teams in the Upstate to push their final game of the year back a week. The contest set for this coming Friday at Pickens will now be played on Nov. 4.

The game has ramifications for the playoff alignment, with the Lions able to finish either third or fourth in Region I-4A.

“Let the playoffs happen wherever they happen we are just going to gear up and get ready for Pickens,” Fruster said. “We have an extra week to prepare for Pickens, (but) unfortunately it also means they have a extra week to prepare for us.”

Fruster said he thinks Pickens will be what his staff has always known Pickens to be.

“They will have a very strong run game and they are throwing the ball a little bit now and they are having success with that,” he said. “We still have to put our work hats on and go back and look at the holes and try to get better. We still have a big region opponent ahead. We have to get ready for Pickens.”

The Lions and Pickens will now kick off at 7:30 p.m. a week from this Friday on Nov. 4.