Lions get shutout win at West-Oak

By Rocky Nimmons

WESTMINSTER — The Daniel Lions were hungry for a victory, and it was painfully obvious the winless West-Oak Warriors were the unlucky team on the menu.

[cointent_lockedcontent]The Lions finally off the snide with an overwhelmingly lopsided 42-0

Rocky Nimmons/Courier Daniel’s Dante Gilliard fights for yardage during the Lions’ 42-0 road win over West-Oak on Friday night.

Rocky Nimmons/Courier
Daniel’s Dante Gilliard fights for yardage during the Lions’ 42-0 road win over West-Oak on Friday night.

win Friday night at Warrior Stadium. The Lions came close to 500 yards of offense and recorded a goose egg with a tough defense to give them their first victory of the season.

“We finally have put some football together,” Daniel coach Randy Robinson said after the game. “Offensively I still think we came out a little slow and a little tentative. Once we got rolling a little bit, we showed that was how we need to be playing football.”

Sophomore quarterback Ben Batson had the best game of his career, passing for 247 yards on an 11-of-20 effort through the air.

“We gave Batson time to make the right reads and get some throws,” Robinson said. “We did a much better job up front.”

The offensive line play also benefited the running game, as the running back corps mounted 204 yards on the ground.

“We rotated backs to maximize what we have got in the back field,” Robinson said. “They are giving us all they have got, and that is all you can ask for.”

But what got Robinson’s attention most was the play of his defense.

“I think I am most proud of that zero on defense,” he said. “The defense played together. The key to defense — and I have coached defense my whole career — is you have to get 11 guys that care enough about each other to do it right. Some guys are getting double-teamed, so somebody else can make a tackle. Sometimes you just have to stay back in coverage when other people are making plays. I saw some evidence of togetherness tonight.”

The Lions came in ready to play from the opening whistle. Taking the opening kickoff and putting the ball in play at the West-Oak 46, Batson went right to the air, finding Jacob Wichelns for 18 yards. Two plays later, Batson showed his legs, picking up 11 yards and a first down. Batson then picked up the Lions’ next set of downs, hitting Dante Gilliard for 10 yards. The touchdown was the result of a five yard blast by runner Marnielius Cobb to cap the eight-play drive. Rivers Sherrill added the extra point, and with 9:37 left in the first, the Lions were up 7-0.

The Lions’ defense was on fire from the start, pounding the Warriors on their opening series and forcing a punt without allowing a first down.

Daniel’s offense was slowed by miscues and penalties on its next two possessions, but on the third, the Lions again took the ball to the house on a five-play drive that covered 64 yards.

Batson was the man as he aired it out with two great passes on the series. The first was a 21-yard toss to Wichelns, and the second a 43-yard rainbow to Carter Groomes for the touchdown with 10:35 left to play in the half. Robinson elected to go for a two-point conversion, but the attempt failed, leaving Daniel with a 13-0 lead.

The Lions’ defense was not about to be overshadowed by the Daniel offense and went to work on pushing the West-Oak offense around on the next series.

The Warriors put the ball into play at their own 27-yard line following Daniel’s ensuing kickoff. There would be no opportunity for positive yardage, as Daniel defensive coordinator Jeff Fruster had his unit dialed in from the start. The Warriors were flagged for holding on first down, then on second down, West-Oak quarterback Brandon Smith was engulfed and sacked for a seven-yard loss back to his own 10-yard line. Smith was in a deep hole and again rolled out to pass on second and 27, but Fruster called a blitz and several Lions were in hot pursuit. Smith scrambled back into his own end zone and had nothing to do but get rid of the ball. The pass didn’t even come close to one of his receivers, and he was flagged for grounding, which resulted in a safety for the Columbia blue and gold with 9:55 left in the half, making the score 15-0 in favor of the visitors.

The Warriors had to kick the ball back to Daniel following the safety, and the Lions went for the jugular on their next series. On second down from the West-Oak 47, Batson once again aired the ball out, hitting Wichelns for a beautiful touchdown. Sherrill tacked on the extra point with 9:01 to play in the first half to push the Lion lead to 21-0.

The big blue machine was firing on all cylinders and added two more touchdowns before intermission. The first was on a 93-yard drive that was again capped with a long touchdown strike. This time Batson hit a wide-open Groomes for a 55-yard touchdown with 3:38 to play in the half. Sherrill again was true on the PAT, and the Lions were up 28-0.

The last score of the half came with just 38 second left. The Warriors didn’t have any answer for Batson’s arm, and the sophomore again used the West-Oak secondary, completing two passes on a six-play, 75-yard drive. Batson hit Gilliard for 18 yards on the second snap of the series, and three plays later he laid a ball out for Will Swinney. Swinney picked up 24 yards and pushed the ball down to the West-Oak 6-yard line. Robinson decided to use the power of his offensive line and gave running back Stephon Kirksey the ball, and the speedster found a hole and went in for the score. Sherrill’s kick made it 35-0 Daniel at the half.

After intermission, the Lions picked up right where they left off, with their bruising defense slamming the door on the Warrior offense and Batson and company mounting yet another scoring drive. Robinson looked like he was ready to ground-and-pound the Warriors and called five running plays on the 71-yard, seven-play drive. Just as West-Oak hunkered down to stop the run, Batson caught a glimpse of Swinney open and tossed him a pass, and off to the races he went, going 37 yards with 7:46 to play in the third quarter for a score. Sherrill was automatic, giving his team a 42-0 lead.

The coaching staffs agreed to let the clock run from there on out, and the Lions substituted freely on offense.

Fruster looked to preserve his shut-out and kept his main unit on the field the remainder of the way. Defenders Avery Conrad, Chris Barnes, Jake Venables and C.J. Scott made impressive plays as time wound down, giving the Lions their first victory of the season, 42-0

“I think we as a team got closer together tonight,” Robinson said. “If we keep building more unity, we can get this thing rolling in the right direction.”

This Friday, night the Lions will finally return to the friendly confines of Singleton Field following three straight weeks on the road, as the Palmetto Mustangs will come calling for another Western AAA matchup.

The Mustangs are 3-1, with wins over Powdersville (23-19), Crescent (40-20) and Dixie (42-13). Their only loss came last week in region play, when they fell to Belton-Honea Path 44-9.

“I told everybody before the season, I thought Palmetto would be the surprise team in the region,” Robinson said. “They have a quality quarterback who is the coach’s son. He is a good player. They have a running back that at times looks unstoppable. We will have our hands full.”