Pickens pulls out thrilling win at Crescent

By Cheri Anthony
Special to The Courier

IVA — The Pickens High School football team’s seniors waited 287 days to lead this year’s team onto the field, and they did not squander the opportunity.

Late in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s season-opening matchup at Crescent, the Pickens defense didn’t break, allowing the team to secure a 31-28 win.

“I was proud of our team’s resolve in the midst of a hostile environment tonight and couldn’t be more proud of their efforts,” Pickens coach Chad Smith said. “It would have been very easy for them to hang their heads tonight, but they didn’t, and that’s a good thing.”

Captains for Friday’s contest were Jaden Jackson, Samuel Maw, Jeremy Burgess and

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Gavin Martin. Pickens won the toss and elected to receive.

Crescent’s opening kickoff went out of bounds, so Pickens started the game from its own 35-yard line. Jackson ran back-to-back plays for three and 46 yards, behind solid blocking, to get Pickens down to Crescent’s 16-yard line. After a stalled series, with 9:55 left in the first quarter, Hunter Smith kicked a 26-yard field goal to get Pickens on the board first with a 3-0 lead.

Following a pattern that Pickens used all night, Smith’s squib kick was not returned, and the Tigers downed the ball on their 40-yard line. On Crescent’s first play from scrimmage, a 60-yard touchdown run was flagged and called back for holding. After a 10-play series that started at their 33-yard line, the Tigers scored on a 13-yard Darius Latimer run at the 4:55 mark. A successful extra point by Bowen Garrett made the score 7-3.

Crescent’s lead didn’t last long, however, as Pickens’ Brett Batson took the ensuing kickoff to the house after two quick moves for an impressive 65-yard touchdown. Smith’s successful point after following Batson’s explosive return gave Pickens a 10-7 advantage with 4:44 left in the first quarter.

After Smith’s kickoff was spotted at Crescent’s 44-yard line, the Tigers put together an eight-play, 56-yard scoring drive capped off by a 30-yard touchdown run by Elijah Walton, but the missed Garrett PAT left the score at 13-10with 1:55 remaining in the opening period.

At that point in the game, the Blue Flame had run seven plays to the Tigers’ 19, but the roles reversed and the Pickens offense took over. From the 1:55 mark of the first quarter to the end of the third quarter, Pickens ran 42plays to Crescent’s 15, dominating the ball possession game.

Heading into the second quarter, the Flame found themselves at the midfield stripe in the midst of an eight-minute drive that saw Maw and Jackson carry the ball a combined 10 times. The Tigers put themselves in deeper trouble when they were called for a penalty for roughing the Pickens punter, Devon Hogan. An outstanding eight-yard Jackson touchdown run and PAT by Smith put the Flame back on top 17-13 at the 6:59 mark of the second quarter, a score that held until halftime.

The second half started with Crescent downing a kickoff at its own 35-yard line. The Tigers were bitten by thepenalty bug once again, and after four plays and two penalties, they were forced to punt to Pickens.

After a short punt return by Jackson, the Flame started their next drive on their own 34-yard line at the 9:35 mark. Jackson found the end zone again to cap an impressive 13-play drive that featured Maw carrying the ball nine times and Jackson getting four touches, including the nine-yard touchdown. Another true PAT by Smith gave the Flame their largest lead of the game at 24-13 with 3:29 remaining in the third quarter.

Crescent applied the pressure to Pickens with a quick 59-second drive that ended with a 65-yard touchdown pass, and with 2:30 remaining in the third quarter, the Tigers had pulled to within four at 24-20.

The Blue Flame were forced to punt after three plays and a delay of game call on their next possession, but the three-and-out ended up leading to a positive momentum shift for the visitors.

A Crescent returner fumbled after a towering punt by Hogan, and Pickens’ Jacob Lewis was there and waiting on the mistake to pounce on the ball at the Tigers’ 36-yard line.

Pickens kept its mojo going and scored seven plays later with the help of two penalties — an offside flag and facemask by the Tigers. Maw rumbled in for the touchdown from two yards out. After another successful PAT by Smith, who finished the game perfect on all kicks, with 9:40 to go in the game, Pickens led 31-20.

A short four-and-out series by the Tigers gave Pickens the ball back on its own 25 at the seven-minute mark. On the second play from scrimmage, Pickens fumbled to hand possession to Crescent at the 25-yard line with 6:09 remaining in the game.

The Tigers weren’t quite ready to give up yet, and three plays later scored on a 13-yard quarterback keeper by Dylan Dale. After a controversial two-point conversion, which cost Pickens a 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff, the Flame were on top 31-28 with 5:06 to play.

The next five minutes saw a series of miscues by the Pickens offense, but tremendous plays by the tenacious Blue Flame defense. Just two plays into the next drive, Pickens fumbled on its own 26-yard line with 3:39 to go. The defense was ready to seal the deal and stepped up to force two incomplete passes and two rushes for no gains. Pickens got the ball back on downs with 2:57 left in the game.

On the first play from Pickens’ 25-yard line, Maw hit a crease up the middle for an incredible 40-yard gain, but officials ruled that the senior fumbled on a tackle from behind, with the Tigers recovering. Maw was injured on the play and did not return to the game.

Starting from its own 35-yard line, Crescent had just more than two minutes to try to take the lead from Pickens. After three ground plays, which saw a net gain of nine yards, the Tigers were left with a fourth and one. Once again, the Pickens defense rose to the occasion, forcing an incomplete pass.

Pickens took over on downs at the 1:36 mark on Crescent’s 48-yard line. Jackson scampered for a 10-yard gain, and with a facemask penalty tacked on, the Flame had the ball for a first and 10 on the Tigers’ 30-yard line. With 1:20 left, Crescent again recovered a fumble, but the Pickens defense was ready for its final challenge of the night.

Crescent’s first play went for nine yards to the 30, and the Tigers stopped the clock with a QB spike for their second down. On third down, Crescent’s pass attempt was broken up by a host of Blue Flame defensive backs. On fourth down, as the Pickens crowd encouraged the defense to stand tall, Dale was forced out of the pocket, chased down and sacked at the 30-yard line by Landon McKinney to dissolve any hopes of a Tiger score. Pickens knelt on the ball three times to pick up the 31-28 season-opening victory.

“I’m pleased with my team’s discipline and lack of penalties tonight and think they were the keys in the difference of the game,” Smith said. “Our special teams also played an important role in the win.”

In the special teams department, the Flame gave up no return yards on kickoffs, finished perfect on extra points and the lone field goal attempt, recovered a fumble on a punt and returned a kickoff for an exciting touchdown.

“This type of win will pay big dividends down the road, because the kids didn’t allow the adversities to keep them from playing hard until the very end of the game,” Smith said.

As the Blue Flame look ahead to a matchup this week with Franklin County (N.C.), Smith said the Lions will be a similar team to Pickens — a big and physical team of athletes. Franklin County is coming off a 35-6 loss to Madison County (N.C.).

The game will be the home opener for the Blue Flame, with kickoff set for 7:30 p.m. at Bill Isaacs Field.