Pickens defense shuts out Warriors

By Eugene Jolley
Courier Sports

PICKENS — Playing their best overall game of the season, the Pickens Blue Flame picked up their first region win of the year in a 38-0 thrashing of the West-Oak Warriors on Friday night.[cointent_lockedcontent]

Tommy McGaha/ Pickens’ Adam Thomas gets into the open field against West-Oak on Friday night. Thomas had just five runs for 21 yards against the Warriors, but scored two touchdowns.

Pickens’ Adam Thomas gets into the open field against West-Oak on Friday night. Thomas had just five runs for 21 yards against the Warriors, but scored two touchdowns.

The game was anything but boring though, as Blue Flame head coach John Boggs was ejected in the closing seconds of the first half after back-to-back unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. The flags came after the side judge ruled a pass in the middle of the field was incomplete, despite Isaiah Ferguson having the ball cuffed in his arms and despite the umpire and back judge marking it as a catch.

“I was proud of these kids,” Boggs said. “We work hard and we play hard. I will always fight hard for these kids, and I’ll leave it at that. I thought we put it on the line tonight, and I thought we played our tails off. I felt like we did some really good things.

“And I’ll never apologize for standing up for my team. It’s unfortunate. I’ve been coaching for 22 years and never been thrown out of a football game, but that’s the way it happens.”

The defense was the story of the night in picking up its second shutout win of the season. West-Oak was held to just 76 yards of total offense and only managed three first downs, the first coming with five minutes left in the game.

“I was very pleased with our effort,” Boggs said. “I thought we got a little sloppy there in the second quarter. I thought we did a good job of throwing the ball. I thought the offensive line did a good job. I thought Tanner Stegall ran the ball well. Obviously Gunner (Covey) ran the ball well. Brandon Batson popped in and had some big runs as well. Adam Thomas got some big runs for us down there in the red zone.

“I felt like we were able to get in a rhythm early, and that was very important. Defensively, they were lights out all night. And Matt Gravely continues to keep people backed up with his leg. Even when they had the threat after the big kickoff return, the defense bowed their necks and kept them out of the end zone. And then there late, I was proud of them and proud of their effort.”

The defense was led by the senior trio up front of Tyler Gravely, Ridge Clark and Renny Croley. Clark had six stops at noseguard, including five in the backfield, with one sack. Gravely had six stops, three for loss and a fumble recovery, and tipped a pass that was intercepted. Croley, playing both ways, had four stops, including one for loss. They kept pressure on West-Oak quarterback Brandon Smith.

“They could do that every week if they want to,” Boggs said. “I thought they did a great job.”

On the first possession of the night, Pickens held the Warriors, with Clark teaming with Gravely for a four-yard loss on second down. The offense took advantage, driving to the 20, where Matt Gravely hit a 37-yard field goal with 6:42 left in the first quarter.

Clark had a tackle for loss and another stop on the next series, and Bryson Capps pressured a bad pass, forcing a punt. Capps got a piece of the punt, which only went 17 yards.

Pickens took advantage of the short field, driving 43 yards in two plays. Quarterback Tanner Stegall kept for 33 yards, and then Gunner Covey went the final 10 around the left side with 4:44 left in the first quarter.

Following another short punt of eight yards, the Blue Flame again struck quickly, scoring five seconds into the second quarter on Adam Thomas’ four-yard run behind the left side. Gravely stayed perfect on point-after kicks, making it 17-0.

The Blue Flame had to punt on the next possession and appeared to be driving for a score on the next, but a fumble gave it back to the Warriors. Thomas then came up with back-to-back pass breakups forcing another punt.

That’s when things got wild. Stegall kept for 22, and Covey ripped off a big run. However, Pickens was called for three questionable holding calls on receivers behind the play. The Blue Flame reached the Warriors’ 20 before Pickens was called for illegal contact to the helmet. Eventually, on second and 31, Stegall fired for Ferguson, who made a low catch and roll and came up with the ball clutched in his arms. Even though the back judge and umpire ruled it a catch in the middle of the field, the side judge on the Warriors’ side, 30 yards away, said it was incomplete.

Boggs was naturally upset with the call.

“Hats off to my coaches for having my back right there in the second half,” Boggs said. “I appreciate them stepping up and going and the kids coming out and getting after it in the second half.”

“I hated it came to that. It’s a little embarrassing. I’m never going to apologize for fighting for them. We spend way too much time. This is our livelihood. This is what we do. I see these kids work too hard through the offseason and the preseason, and through practice every day, and to battle back from adversity, seeing them get out here and get each other’s back. I just want to stick up for them when I get the opportunity.”

The second half was more of the same for Pickens. Gravely did miss a 51-yard attempt into a strong wind on the first drive, but the defense got it right back, as Tyler Gravely tipped Smith’s pass and Clay Adcox picked it off and returned it to the Warriors’ 3-yard line. Covey took it the final three, making it 24-0 with 7:02 left in the third quarter.

Adcox, unfortunately, severely injured his ankle on the ensuing kickoff, when Smith returned it 73 yards, with Robert Jones saving the score.

The defense kept up the pressure, however, and when Smith fumbled three plays later, Tyler Gravely recovered to end the threat.

Pickens scored with 11:04 left when Thomas took a toss sweep left three yards, following a questionable West-Oak pass interference penalty.

Corbin Hinkle later tipped another Warriors punt of 14 yards and set up a final Blue Flame score. Stegall hit Ferguson on a stop-and-go route for 31 yards, as the defender wasn’t within 20 yards of him.

West-Oak made one final threat. Smith had a long run, and Pickens was hit with another questionable penalty. The Warriors reached the 15 before the defense stiffened. Croley had a tackle for loss on first down. Clark sacked Smith on second. Smith got stopped for no gain by Croley and a fourth-down pass under heavy duress fell incomplete.

Pickens will play at Walhalla on Friday night. It was supposed to be a homecoming of sorts for Boggs, who was head coach for eight years there, but the ejection may mean he has to sit out.

“Right now, I probably won’t get to go,” Boggs said. “I will have to look and see what the high school league rules are. We’ll enjoy this one right now and worry about that one this coming week.

“I was there eight years. I still live there now, trying to sell my house and move here. Eight good years — my two youngest kids were born over there. My wife still works over at the middle school, and the kids go there. It’s a special place and has a special place in our lives for a long time. We’re here now and we’re Blue Flame, and we’re ready to go battle for a region win. We know it will be tough, because they always play everyone tough at home in their new stadium.”

Notes: The 2015 Pickens High School Athletic Hall of Fame Class welcomed three new members Friday night. Coach Bob Allison, Marion Dukes and Janna Webb White were inducted at halftime. White joins her brother, R.J. Webb, as a member of the Hall of Fame.

Walhalla has a new school and stadium, located on S.C. Highway 11 between Salem and Walhalla. Friday night’s game will be aired on WGOG-FM 101.7 with Jimmy Watt and Jeff Underwood providing coverage.