Last-second FG kills Lions’ shot at State

By Rocky Nimmons


COLUMBIA — For the full regular season and through four weeks of the AAA playoffs, the Daniel Lions were undefeated.

But the entire season came down to one play, one second on the scoreboard clock at Saturday’s AAA State championship game at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.

In that one second, Daniel players, coaches and fans alike had their dreams of a perfect season ripped from their grasp as they watched Myrtle Beach kicker Sean Huggins’ 23-yard field goal split the uprights, handing the Lions their only defeat of the season in a 24-21 loss for all the marbles.

“Our guys played well — it was 21-21 with a couple of minutes to go,” Daniel coach Randy Robinson said. “Unfortunately they got the game-winning field goal, but I am proud of my guys and my coaches. They fought hard tonight. Once the sting goes away, they will realize they were 14-1 and the Upper State champs.

“We played well, but in the State championship game you play good teams. We played well and they played well. Offensively we struggled in the first half. We had too many three-and-outs. You can’t get yourself in a hole. We had some chances to score some points early and we didn’t. We turned it over several times, and it is hard to overcome that.”

The Lions, though, have nothing to be ashamed of. The team posted the second best season in Daniel football history with a 14-1 record and earned the school its first trip to Columbia in 15 years. Daniel’s 20 seniors were also a part of the second winningest class school history.

Despite the impressive year, Daniel wanted more, as did the Lion faithful. Thousands made the trip to Columbia to cheer on the blue and gold despite sitting in a cold rain for much of the game.

“A lot of people thought we couldn’t make it to the State championship after going 0-3 in the last three Upper State championship games,” Robinson said. “These 20 senior brought us down here to the State championship game and they lose on the last play of the game. They have nothing to be ashamed of.”

The game can best be seen in several critical statistics that didn’t go the Lions way. Even though the overall yardage was close to even, with Daniel’s 306 yards to Myrtle Beach’s 321 yards, the time of possession was heavily in the Seahawks’ favor with Myrtle Beach’s offense holding the ball for 29:28 to Daniel’s 18:22. The Seahawks ran 73 offensive plays to the Lions’ 49.

Daniel’s running game produced its usual big number, while its defense kept Myrtle Beach’s rushing attack in check. But as several pass-oriented teams have done during the season, the Seahawks were able to hammer the Lions for big gains through the air. Myrtle Beach posted 276 passing yards to Daniel’s 71. The results forced the Lions’ defense to stay on the field most of the night. The Daniel defense allowed the Seahawks to convert on several crucial long yardage situations late in the contest. Coupled with Myrtle Beach’s win in the turnover battle (3-1), it makes it all the more impressive that Robinson’s Lions were still in position to force over-time as the final minutes were played.

The Lions’ offense just could not get any momentum in the first half, with several open receivers unable to come up with a play. The Lions managed only a single first down in the first two quarters and still went into halftime tied 7-7.

“Offensively we had a terrible first half,” Robinson said. “We got in at the half and got them settled down and then we went down the field. We just didn’t score enough points.”

The game started with Myrtle Beach winning the toss and electing to take the ball. Starting on their own 24, the Seahawks tried the Daniel defensive front. A pair of running plays picked up six yards, but the Lions held when Seahawks quarterback Drayton Arnold threw incomplete, forcing a punt.

Daniel took control of the pigskin at its own 34-yard line. Quarterback Andy McCall went up top quickly, but missed on two tosses and was sacked for a three-yard loss, forcing the Lions to call on punter Andy Fowler to kick the ball away.

It looked to be a defensive struggle as the Lion defense roared and didn’t allow the Seahawks any yardage on three plays. Again Myrtle Beach punted, with the Lions taking the ball over at the Daniel 45-yard line. Shrine Bowl-bound running back Jae’lon Oglesby took the first handoff of the series and scooted upfield for two yards. On second down, Oglesby got the call again, but this time he had the ball stripped, with the Seahawks recovering at their own 49-yard line.

The turnover spelled trouble for Daniel, as Myrtle Beach made the Lions pay for the mistake by mounting the game’s first scoring drive. The Seahawks went 51 yards in seven plays, twice converting on third down and 10 situations — the first an 18-yard pass from Arnold to Brandon Sinclair and the second on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Arnold to Graham Vaughn with 5:02 to play in the first quarter. Huggins added the extra point to give the Seahawks a 7-0 advantage.

The Lions’ offense continued to struggle, losing a yard on their next three plays and punting once more. The Daniel defense, still playing to keep the game close halted the Seahawks and forced a punt.

Daniel did get positive yardage on its next possession, but not enough, and Robinson’s Pride had to punt the ball away once more.

The game had become a battle of defenses, as the teams continued to exchange punts, although Daniel was able to get its first first down on a 13-yard pass from McCall to Oglesby.

Myrtle Beach looked to finally be able to move the ball and picked up 19 yards on the first snap of a series late in the second quarter, pushing the ball into Daniel territory at the 40-yard line. The Lions seemed to be bending as Myrtle Beach looked to keep driving, picking up four yards on two rushes on its next two plays. Arnold went back to the air facing third down and five, and the quarterback hit wide receiver C.J. Finkley for a first down and a 13-yard gain down to the Daniel 22-yard line.

The Lions were not about to give up another score before intermission, and with great heart they laid it all on the line as the tough defensive front poured on the pressure on the Seahawks’ next play. Arnold rolled left and turned to throw back right, only to have it picked by Daniel’s Amir Trapp, who found a crease and turned the interception into an 85-yard pick-six for the Lions with 1:20 to play in the first half. Daniel kicker Christian Groomes nailed the extra point, and the half ended with the score knotted at 7-7.

After intermission, the Daniel offense came out ready to play. Robinson decided to rely on his running game. Following the opening kick to start the half, Daniel took control of the ball at its own 36-yard line.

Robinson went to the horse that had brought the Lions to Columbia, and Oglesby answered with a nice 23-yard run on first down. Oglesby picked up three more yards, then Robinson went to his stable of backs and called on Jared Dillingham,

Dillingham, who has been a perfect companion to Oglesby, went to work, picking up 13 yards on his next two carries. With the ball resting at the Seahawks’ 25, Oglesby added five more yards on the next snap. Then Robinson called on big bruising running back Austin Barnes. Barnes added three yards, following by a eight-yard run by Dillingham, giving the Lions a first and goal at the Myrtle Beach 9-yard line. McCall was halted for no gain on first down, then Barnes was the hammer and picked up three on second down. Dillingham pushed ahead on third down for four yards, but it was not enough, and the Lions had to make a decision.

Facing fourth and goal from the Seahawk 2-yard line, Robinson decided to go for the score, rather than attempt a 19-yard field goal. The call was a quick hitter up the gut with Barnes, but the runner had nowhere to go and was tackled for no gain, turning the ball over to the Seahawks on downs.

The Lion defense was still playing top -notch and almost nabbed a safety. The Seahawks, however, were so hemmed in that they had no choice but to give the ball back to the Lions with a punt from their own end zones. The kick was hauled in by Daulton Pilgrim at the Myrtle Beach 26-yard line, giving the Lions great field position. Disaster struck, as on first down Oglesby lost his handle on the ball with the Seahawks recovering.

“We felt confident. We needed to score some touchdowns. We were on the 2-yard line and didn’t get in, but we got great field position and stopped them with a three and out and then got the ball back on the 25 yard-line. That is pretty good field position,” Robinson said of the choice to go for the touchdown. “We turned it over several times, and it is hard to overcome that.”

The Daniel defense continued to play hard even though the fumble was a crucial mistake and held the Seahawks and forced a punt, not allowing them to capitalize on the turnover as they had done in the first half.

Following a punt, the Lions took over at their own 19. Oglesby was not about to let the fumble shake him, and the speedster got the first call on the Lion drive and raced 81 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. Groomes added the PAT with 4:16 to play in the third to give the Lions their first lead at 14-7.

The game suddenly became an offensive battle, as Myrtle Beach immediately started to move the ball. Starting at their own 30-yard line, the Seahawks mounted an eight-play drive that was helped along by a couple of crucial Lion penalties — the first a pass interference call that kept the Seahawks’ series alive and the second a facemask call. The Myrtle Beach touchdown came when Arnold found Finkley open from 19 yards out with 40 seconds left in the third quarter. Huggins evened the game at 14-14 when he nailed the PAT.

The Seahawks took the lead a series later, when again mistakes cost Daniel. Starting at its own 38-yard line, Myrtle Beach put together a nine-play drive helped again by a couple of Lion interference calls. Other than the Daniel penalties, the only big play of the series was a 28-yard completion from Arnold to Victor Brown on a desperation third down and 15 from the Daniel 35. The play gave Myrtle Beach the ball at the Lions’ 7-yard line. The touchdown came when Arnold hit Vaughn for the score from three yards out. Huggins added the PAT with seven minutes to play, pushing Myrtle Beach out front 21-14.

It was put up or shut up time for the Lions, and Robinson knew his team had to score. Starting at the Daniel 40-yard line, McCall picked up a yard on first down. Oglesby then got the call, and this time the running back found a seam, picking up 43 yards down to the Seahawks’ 26. Barnes rumbled ahead on the next play, and the Lions were knocking on the door at the Myrtle Beach 16-yard line. Daniel’s next two plays netted zero yards, so Robinson called on McCall to go to his big, tall wide receiver Chuck Colberg, and Colberg delivered with an 11-yard catch giving the Lions a first and goal at the 5. Barnes blasted in on the next snap with 4:02 to play for the game-tying touchdown. Groomes evened the game at 21-21.

Now it was all up to the Daniel defense. Following the ensuing kickoff, Myrtle Beach put the ball into play at its own 28-yard line. The Lions halted the Hawks on first down for no gain. On second down, Arnold hit Vaughn for 10 yards and a Myrtle Beach first down. The Lion defense brought the heat and pounded Arnold for a 13-yard sack and held the Seahawks to a yard gain on the next two plays. Facing a third down and 22 from the Myrtle Beach 26-yard line, it looked like the Lions were about to get a stop until Arnold scrambled and somehow hit Kelton Greene for an unbelievable 25-yard pass to keep the drive alive.

Arnold stayed in the air after the first-down completion and tossed a 15-yard pass to Finkley that gave the Seahawks a first down with the ball resting at the Daniel 34. Another big pass two plays later added 22 yards when Arnold again hit Vaughn at the 11-yard line as time ticked away.

Sinclair took the next two Arnold handoffs, pushing the ball to the Lions’ 6-yard line. The Seahawks called their final timeout with one second to play. On the next snap, Huggins won the game on a 23-yard field goal as time expired.

Although disappointed, the Lions produced a great season with many young players gaining valuable playoff experience. Robinson knows the program will benefit greatly from the experience.

“We want to compete for the whole thing. That is what we are trying to build is an attitude at Daniel,” he said. “I am proud of this senior class. We had 20 guys that got us back to the State championship, and they have nothing to be ashamed of.

“We want our program to be at the top. It is rough when you set the bar that high and people criticize, but that is the way we want to do it at Daniel. We sure built a lot for the future of our program. We are proud of this senior class for getting us back to the top.”