Wave breathe sigh of relief after win

By Kerry Gilstrap
Courier Sports

CENTRAL — The Easley Green Wave faithful were breathing a collective sigh of relief Friday night as they watched Daniel Lions kicker Rivers Sherrill’s free kick tail off to the left in a game that will be remembered for years to come at Singleton Field in Central.

Easley running back Will Drawdy sprints past Daniel defenders during the Green Wave’s 19-17 win Friday night at Singleton Field.

The missed kick was the result of a last-ditch effort by the Lions to squeak out a victory over the Wave, who hold on for a 19-17 win to move to 2-0 on the season.

The kick was the result of a rule that rarely gets used in football. If a team fair catches the ball with time left on the clock, that team has one chance to try a free kick, which looks much like a kickoff from the spot of the catch. If the kick goes through the uprights, that team earns three points, just like a normal field goal.

The Wave produced a dominating first half, taking a 19-7 lead into intermission thanks to some great play-calling by Green Wave head coach John Windham.

The Wave took it to Daniel from the start, picking apart the Lions’ defense with both the run and the pass. On the night, the Wave offense produced 361 yards of offense, much of which came in the first two quarters.

If Easley has a weakness so far this season, it would be the amount of flags the green machine have had thrown on them in their first two outings. This week the Wave were called for 14 penalties that cost them 126 yards, with most coming in the game’s second half, in which they could have iced the game if not for all the laundry on the field at critical moments.

The Wave got on the scoreboard first on a 72-yard drive that saw the offense firing on all cylinders. Easley got into the end zone when Dalton Black connected with a nice toss over the middle to an uncovered Holden Martin. Martin took the catch and found a seam, racing 57 yards for the game’s first points. Easley came up short on the PAT as Joshua Hansen’s kick was blocked with 7:32 to play, making the score 6-0.

The Lions answered with their only points of the first half. Daniel put together an 80-yard drive that was capped with a 22-yard touchdown pass from Ben Batson to Carter Groomes with 3:14 left in the first quarter. Sherrill added the extra point to make the score 7-6 Lions.

Windham’s team was not about to lay down after the Daniel drive and answered like a bolt if lightning. Starting at his own 31 after the ensuing kick, Black went back to the air. This time he again found a wide open receiver over the middle in Carter Wiles. Windham had to see that the Daniel defense was breaking down on coverage and capitalized on the soft spot in the secondary. Once Wiles made the catch, there was no stopping him, and the speedster went 69 yards for a Green Wave touchdown. Windham decided to try for two, but the conversion came up short as Black again tried to hit Wiles, but the pass fell incomplete. Only 21 seconds after the Lions captured the lead, the Wave were back on top, 12-7.

Tough defense set up the Wave’s final points of the half. A big hit on Lion runner Stephon Kirksey forced him to cough up the pigskin, with Easley recovering deep in Lion territory at the 12-yard line. The Wave looked to be shooting themselves in the foot with a holding penalty and an illegal shift on consecutive plays. The flags didn’t kill the drive, though, as the Easley offense regrouped and got into the end zone. Facing a first and 26 from the Lions’ 29-yard line, Will Drawdy got the call and picked up a couple of yards. Next, Black went to his bread and butter and found Drawdy coming out of the backfield for a nice 26-yard completion to save the series. The play got the big green to the 1-yard line with goal to go. Black called his own number and plunged in from a yard out with 10 seconds left in the first quarter. Hansen nailed the PAT, and the Wave were out front 19-7.

Both teams pounded each other in the second quarter, but neither was able to gain momentum, and the half ended with the Wave in command.

As the second half started, Easley knew it had to play defense, because the homestanding Lions were not about to lay down. Daniel proved that point by mounting a seven-play drive that covered 67 yards to begin the second half. The Lions pulled to within five on the series when Kirksey drove in from three yards out to cap the drive with a touchdown. Sherrill tacked on the PAT with 9:23 to play in the third quarter, and it was obvious the game was far from over.

Easley’s offense sputtered and was forced to punt on its next possession, gaining only eight yards on three plays. Kicking from their own 13, the Wave gave the Lions great field position as the punt traveled only 24 yards.

It was up to the Green Wave defense to save the day, and it did just that, halting the Lions’ attack and forcing them to settle for a 38-yard field goal with 4:32 to play in the third. Sherrill’s kick pulled the Lions to within two at 19-17.

The teams’ defenses dominated from that point on. Disaster almost struck for the Wave late in the fourth quarter, but some great heads-up play from Hansen from the punter position saved the Wave. Facing fourth down and four from the Easley 38, the Wave called on the punting team. Back deep to kick, Hansen was shocked when the snap sailed over his head down inside the 10-yard line. Keeping his wits, Hansen scooped up the ball and somehow got his punt away, keeping the Lions from an easy score.

The Lions looked to be on the prowl following the great save and pushed the ball down to the Easley 17-yard line on three plays. The drive was helped along by an interference call on the Wave, but the defenivese unit made up for the penalty when Sean-Thomas Faulkner picked off a Lion pass at the Easley 5-yard line.

The Wave needed just one first down to ice the game with under a minute and a half left in the contest, but the Daniel defense was fired up and stiffened, and that was when the fun started.

Officials kept starting and stopping the clock until it was finally settled that the Wave would have to punt and hope for a stop with only seconds left.

With less than six second left in the game, Hansen kicked the ball away, and unbelievably the Lions called for a fair catch. Stumped by the call, Easley’s defense expected to take the field for a last-second Daniel Hail-Mary pass. Instead, the Lions went deep into the rule book and called a rare free kick. The rule is so rare that hardly anyone in the stadium had a clue as to why Daniel was lining up for what looked like a kickoff.

With 1.1 seconds remaining, Daniel had one last chance to pull it out. There was no time for full explanations on what was going on — it was time to either win or lose for both teams.

Windham sent his troops on the field and hoped for the best. The whistle blew for game play to start, and Sherrill approached the ball. The kick started off great but hooked more and more as it got closer to the goal post, eventually falling short and giving the Wave a 19-17 victory.

“The win feels great — I have been coaching a long time and never seen (the free kick rule) happen,” Windham said following the game. “This really was a crazy game. I don’t think I have ever witnessed one of those kicks, and certainly not one for a game-winning kick. I haven’t ever even seen that on SportsCenter.”

Even though the Wave are still unbeaten on the young season, Windham knows his team still has plenty of room for improvement.

“So many penalties — we just have a lot of penalties,” Windham said.

This Friday night, the Green Wave will host the Seneca Bobcats. The Bobcats are coming off a 56-27 win last week against the Greenville Red Raiders.

“That’s going to be another big test,” Windham said, “so we will rest up and get ready for it.”