Lions snuff Flame in season finale

Tommy McGaha/

By Rocky Nimmons

PICKENS — The Daniel Lions got it done in crunch time against Pickens on Friday night.

First-year Lions coach Jeff Fruster and his staff and players knew they had their backs to a wall. The Lions had to hit the road to play a cross-county and region rival in an electric environment with the season on the line.

A win meant a third-place finish in the Region I-4A standing and a trip to the playoffs to extend the season. A loss could have kicked them entirely out and ended the season.

The Blue Flame were coming off a big 33-0 shutout win over Travelers Rest. The stage was set for slobberknocker, and that is just what those in attendance got to see as the two squared off. The Lions dominated the first half and held off the Flame in the second to come away with a 38-21 victory.

11-9 Page 1B.indd“The kids had a great two weeks of preparation. I can tell by the score that Pickens did as well,” Fruster said following the win. “It’s like I have said all along, I think these kids have a lot of fight and a lot of hunger in them. I can guarantee you that our kids are not ready for it to be over. As long as that is our mindset we will do OK.”

Fuster lauded the play of his opponents and the job the Flame did in making adjustments during the contest.

“My hat’s off to Coach (Chad) Seaborn and that Pickens staff,” he said. “Everyone is afforded an opportunity to adjust, and that is what they did. They changed some blocking schemes and changed the way they attacked us. That made us have to go back and change some things we were doing. Pickens came out fighting and trying to win themselves a ballgame in their last home game.”

The Lions entered the game swinging and jumped to a quick 21-0 lead. The Daniel defensive unit was the first to roar, with a big hit on Pickens’ Brandon Batson that led to a fumble recovery by the Lions at the Blue Flame 37-yard line.

It took a single snap for the Lions’ potent offense to get six. Quarterback Ben Batson didn’t waste time, as the young signal caller spied wideout Brysen Smith open over the middle and zipped him the ball. Smith did the rest, as he found a couple of blocks and raced in for the game’s first points with 10:22 left in the first quarter. Nick Muchow hammered home the PAT to give the Lions an early 7-0 lead.

The Lion defense kept up the pressure and again forced Pickens to punt the ball away without a first down.

Batson and company took control on the Daniel 22. This time, Daniel mounted a 10-play drive that covered 25 yards. The Pickens defense hung tough, however, forcing a turnover on downs with a fourth-down stop.

11-9 Page 1B.indd

Tommy McGaha/
Daniel quarterback Ben Batson escapes the grasp of a Pickens defender during their game Friday night.

Pickens took over at the Daniel 47, but the Blue Flame offense just could not gain any footing and was forced into a punting situation after losing three yards on as many plays. Disaster stuck for the Flame, as Stone Prince bobbled the snap from center and the Lions took charge at the 27-yard line. A personal foul call on the Lions pushed the ball back to the Pickens 38. Batson first tried to hit receiver Drew Swinney, but missed with the ball falling incomplete. The misfire did not deter Batson, as he again went to the air on second down, this time zeroing in on wide receiver Isaac Weaver for a 38-yard touchdown with 1:42 left in the first. Muchow remained true, pushing the lead to 14-0.

Following the ensuing kickoff, the Lion defense continued to play tough, again shutting down the Flame attack for another three-and-out, forcing Prince to punt the ball away.

The Lions began with great field position near midfield at the 47. Nine plays later, Fru’s crew was in the end zone again. Batson was on fire on the series, going 3-for-4 through the air with completions of 12, 5 and 13 yards. Batson also showed his running ability, picking up 14 yards down to the Pickens 2-yard line, setting up a touchdown run by running back Kiandre Sims to cap the drive with 8:33 left before the half.

“I thought Batson controlled the ball well,” Fruster said. “He made some good decisions, especially late in the game when we needed them. He is definitely grooming himself as a starting quarterback.”

11-9 Page 1B.inddNeither team could muster any more points prior to intermission. As the second half started, the Lions continued to dominate early. The second time the Lions had the ball after intermission, Daniel again produced points, this time on a five-play series that covered 56 yards.

Tommy McGaha/
Daniel’s Brysen Smith hauls in a 31-yard pass over Pickens’ Daniel Hooper for a touchdown during their game Friday night.

Batson again picked the Flame defense apart, going a perfect 3-of-3 through the air with a completion for seven yards to Will Swinney, then a pair to Smith, the first for 18 and the final one for 31 and a score. Muchow hit the PAT with 4:24 to play, and the Lions looked to be rolling, 28-0.

The Blue Flame never quit, though, continuing to battle.

Pickens finally got rolling as the Flame started a touchdown march of their own. The drive went 69 yards and lasted nine plays. Pickens quarterback Jared Pace began to heat up on the series with nice passes to Kyle Day and Robert Jones. Day snagged one midway through for 31 yards, while Jones picked up 11 early and hauled in a pass for the final 31 with 35 seconds left in the third. Dylan Baynard tacked on the extra point, making the score 28-7 in favor of the Lions.

Daniel answered late in the fourth with a seven-play, 53-yard series that ended with a one-yard touchdown run by Batson, who ran for 43 yards on the series and passed for 10 more. Muchow added the PAT, pushing the Lions to a 35-7 lead with 5:30 to play.

The Blue Flame responded like lightning. Pickens quickly answered with a two-play drive that covered 34 yards. The series was set up by a great return by Jones to the Lions’ 34-yard line. On the drive’s second snap, Pace reared back and heaved a long one toward the end zone, with Prince hauling it in for a touchdown. Baynard split the uprights on the PAT, bringing the Flame to within 21 at 35-14.

11-9 Page 1B.inddThe score fired up the Flame defense, and the unit made a play the next time they were on the field. Daniel’s Cody Barnes mishandled a Batson handoff, and the ball popped free. Pickens’ Colin Hinkle corralled the pigskin, scooping it up and racing 23 yards for a Blue Flame touchdown with only 3:19 left in the contest. Baynard added the PAT, making the score 35-21.

Daniel then went to the run in order to work the clock. The Lions pushed the ball downfield, with Sims carrying the load. In seven plays the Lions were knocking at the door, but facing fourth and one from the Pickens 2-yard line, Fruster sent Muchow on to add three with a 19-yard field goal with just 56 seconds to play making the final score 38-21 in favor of the Lions.

The win now gives the Lions two weeks to get ready to start playoff action. The Lions will have to travel to York to face the Cougars in round one.

“With the win this week we ensured a winning season. That is something we have really worked toward,” Fruster said. “At the end of the day a win is a win, and we will take them anyway we can get them.”

The Lions finished third in the region and knew a long road trip was in the cards.

“You are absolutely correct it will be a long trip, but you know we have had them before,” Fruster said. “We went down to Ninety Six, and we have made some long trips already, so this one will not be any different.”

The win was also a milestone in the young head coach’s resume.

“I think it’s big (getting a playoff berth in the first year as head coach),” Fruster said. “It is kind of like new life. Our kids have the opportunity to continue playing and a chance at some success that those that aren’t there do not have. I preached to the kids all week that we have to do a better job of playing a complete game. For the most part we did that against Pickens. We played very good on both sides of the ball and for the majority of the quarters. We did let some plays get away from us, but that is to the credit of Pickens.

“We are going to take the next two weeks with the mindset that we want to get a victory and play smarter this week.”

Fruster also wants a sea of Columbia blue in York on Nov. 18.

“Our fan base at an away game is as big as anything,” he said. “As always, I encourage people to come out and support this group of kids. They are a special group and they are just looking for someone to believe in them as much as this staff does.”

York finished the year 5-5, with a 4-1 mark and a second-place finish in Region III-4A behind perennial power South Pointe.