Last-second touchdown gives Easley win over Pickens

By Eugene Jolley
Courier Sports

EASLEY — A lot of Easley High School football fans, and even the band, got to Pickens late for Thursday night’s rivalry game.

At least they were there for one of the more exciting finishes in the series, as Easley rallied for three touchdowns in the final seven minutes to beat the Blue Flame 35-28 at Bill Isaacs Stadium.

Many fans didn’t arrive until the second quarter, as the game was moved up a day due to Hurricane Ian. Green Wave fans might say they didn’t miss much, as Pickens jumped out to a 21-7 halftime lead.

The big issue for Easley was it couldn’t get off the field defensively as Pickens ran 35 plays from scrimmage in the first half to only 16 for the Green Wave.

And some snapping issues struck Easley in the first half, as well as a key holding penalty that erased a long Ethan Alexander run on fourth and two. Then forced to punt, the snap was low and Alexander was tackled at the Easley 29.

Pickens went up 14-0 before Easley answered with a five-play, 61-yard drive. Quarterback Kalab Sutton had a key 40-yard keeper on third and one, setting up Logan Sullivan’s six-yard touchdown run around the left side to make it 14-7 with 6:04 left in the half.

Pickens answered with a long drive scoring just before halftime to go up 21-7.

It was an interesting halftime in the locker room, for sure.

“We talked to the guys about having some heart,” Easley coach Jordan Durrah said. “I felt we were a little lazy, a little too comfortable with the win streak. We told the guys this game can’t mean more to Pickens than it means to us. We’ve got to figure out what is going wrong, dig deep and find a win to win this football game. Our guys came back in the second half and they thought about Easley pride, they thought about the importance of the rivalry, they thought about having some heart and playing tough. They did a good job of fighting back and winning the football game.”

It didn’t appear Easley would be winning on the Green Wave’s opening drive of the second half, as Sutton fumbled at the Pickens 19.

Perhaps the Green Wave, just a week removed from a 42-0 win over Southside — a team that beat Pickens — thought they would roll to an easy win. It was anything but easy.

“We preached to them all week,” Durrah said. “ Each week is a new week, and we didn’t do a good job of that in the first half. We were caught up in ‘They did this and they did that and we’ve done this and we’ve done that.’ You’ve got to be in the moment. You’ve got to win the particular week, and they responded in the second half.”

But, needing a big play, the defense came up with a huge stop as senior Chris Clemons sacked Pickens quarterback Landon Pace for an eight-yard loss at the 47, forcing a punt.

The offense then put together a seven-play, 61-yard drive. Facing second down at the 33, Sutton somehow eluded defender Tristan Clark and hit senior Dylan Arnold, who was 10 yards behind every one in the end zone. Alexander’s kick made it 21-14 with 4:57 left in the quarter.

Again the Easley defense came up big as Pickens tried a double reverse. But senior Sire Crisp snuffed it out for a three-yard loss, forcing another punt.

“They did a good job,” Durrah said of the defense. “ Played with better pad level. They did a good job of getting off the ball. Started rallying up and making tackles. Just did a better job overall in the second half.”

This time, the Blue Flame defense came up big as Sutton was stopped two yards short on fourth and six at the 47.

Pickens turned the defensive stop into points on the other end, going up 28-14 with 8:34 left in the game.

Easley quickly answered with a nine-play, 63-yard drive. A key play in the drive was Sutton’s fourth-down pass to sophomore tight end Kyler Turner. Four plays later, Sutton found Alexander, who had drifted out of the backfield into the flats untouched for a 15-yard touchdown that made it 28-21 with 6:38 remaining.

The Green Wave defense needed another stop, and they got it. Again it was Clemons who stopped Pace after a two-yard gain on third and 10, forcing a punt into the wind.

The Green Wave struck on the next play as Sutton hit junior Will Patton on a post pattern covering 44 yards for a score to tie the game at 28-28 with 4:16 left.

Again, it would be in the hands of the Easley defense.

Sophomore cornerback Jalyn Henry was called for a pass interference penalty. The Green Wave sideline felt the call should have been an offensive penalty.

But with the Flame running a similar pass play three plays later, Henry picked off the pass, returned it 45 yards to the Pickens 15 to set up the winning score.

“Big-time play by him,” Durrah said of Henry. “We talk about winning the moment. That’s kind of like our motto in our program. We talk about that if you win those critical moments in life and in the game, you are going to have a chance at success. He jumped up and made a play and put us in a position to win the game. Super proud of him.”

On second down, Sutton found Turner, who made a nice sliding catch at the 2-yard line. On the next play, Sutton kept around the left side, making it 35-28 with 19.2 seconds left.

“He’s just a sophomore and he loves the moment,” Durrah said of Sutton. “He loves when things get a little crazy. He’s really a calm individual, and he was calm tonight. He made some big-time plays and big-time throws. It was cool to see him run it in there to take the lead.”

Pickens had one more chance and tried a double-reverse pass. Senior D.J. Kittles sacked Pace, causing a fumble that was recovered by Easley junior Danell Roberts to end the game.

“I prefer a little bit more room in the score than this one,” Durrah said. “Disappointed in how we played in the first half. Extremely proud of our guys and coaching staff for putting a plan together and finding a way to win this week.”

Easley will play at Greenwood this Friday night, with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m.