Pickens traveling to take on Bobcats

By Eugene Jolley
Courier Sports

PICKENS — Pickens will return to play Friday night at Seneca, a team that defeated the Blue Flame twice last season.

The Bobcats won in the region matchup, 31-6, and then again in a first-round state playoff game, 42-0. Now, the two teams are in different classifications, with Seneca staying in 3A while Pickens moved up to 4A. It will be the final tune-up for the Blue Flame before region play begins Sept. 30.

PHSGlancePickens (1-3) is coming off an impressive 54-21 win over West-Oak. Going into the open week with a win definitely lifted team morale after three tough-losses to open the season.

The Pickens defense has played pretty well. In a 14-0 opening-game loss to Easley, the Green Wave scored on an interception return and a long pass. The Blue Flame then got down to Pendleton 24-0, which included a fumbled punt for a touchdown, before rallying to cut the score to 24-10. A late interception return sealed that loss.

Then against Liberty, the Red Devils jumped out to a 17-0 lead, which included a safety. Pickens fought back to make it 17-14 at the half, but couldn’t muster anything in the second half before falling 24-14.

The Blue Flame have picked off six passes on the season, led by junior cornerback Daniel Hooper with two.

Inside linebackers Bryson Capps (42) and senior Cole Seaborn (41) lead the Blue Flame in tackles.

Offensively, the Blue Flame struggled until the West-Oak game. The struggle has been along the offensive line, as every game has had a different starting five. In the first game, Pickens didn’t gain a first down until the second half, and against Liberty, it was late in the second quarter before the initial first down. Braden Gravely, Jake Gantt and Hudson Burgess have started each game. The Blue Flame have been trying to develop other players along the defensive line so Gravely and senior Dorian Butler can concentrate on offense.


Tommy McGaha/
(LEFT)Pickens senior Robert Jones drags a Liberty defender during the Blue Flame’s loss to the Red Devils on Sept. 2. The Flame will return to action this week at Seneca after taking last week off.
(RIGHT) Pickens quarterback Tanner Stegall tosses a pass to Jared Barton during the Blue Flame’s win over West-Oak on Sept. 9.

Against Easley, Pickens had 16 plays go for negative yards. That number was cut drastically against West-Oak.

Quarterback Tanner Stegall has completed 35 of 96 passes for two scores and 491 yards. He’s been victimized by several drops. The return of senior Sam Lawson, out the last two games due to severe cramping in the Pendleton game, and second-leading receiver Kirkland Gillespie, out with a knee injury suffered in the offseason, should help there.

In the backfield, senior tailback Brandon Batson suffered a knee injury against Liberty. Senior Kyle Day and junior Jamal Blythe have stepped up there. Blythe scored on a 55-yard run and set up another with a 50-yard run against West-Oak.

The offensive line has had a different lineup each week, so the Blue Flame are hopeful the win will lead to some stability there.

Special teams has been a pleasant surprise for Pickens. Dylan Banyard is 1-for-2 on field goals, and Stone Prince is averaging 35 yards per punt. Both are in their first year kicking.

On returns, Blythe has given the Blue Flame a key lift in returning kicks with a 23-yard average. Jared Barton has come on returning punts, with three for 49 yards.

The Bobcats will present quite the challenge with tailback Jacory Benson. He was one of two Seneca backs to rush for more than 1,000 yards last season.

Last year, Pickens opened region play at Wren following the open week and had perhaps its worst game of the season. Add to that the untimely death of former Coach Bill Isaacs, and nothing went right for the Blue Flame during that two-week period.

Wren won that game, 42-12.

The week following the Seneca game will begin region play with matchups against Wren, Greenville, Daniel and Belton-Honea Path, and a non-region game versus Travelers Rest.