Wave top Pickens in coaches’ debut

By Eugene Jolley
Courier Sports

EASLEY — The annual clash between county rivals Pickens and Easley was a contrast in styles Friday night before a nearly filled Green Wave Stadium.

[cointent_lockedcontent]The Green Wave, with their no-huddle, spread offense, were able to hold off the slower-paced Blue Flame by a 29-17 final in the teams’ season opener. It was the fifth win in a row in the series for Easley and first for new head coach John Windham.

“It was a good game,” Windham said. “I give a lot of credit to Pickens. They fought hard.

“I thought we had too many penalties, (but) many of them were aggressive penalties. I was proud of the way we played. We had some critical conversions and big plays that really helped us. I thought our kids fought hard for four quarters.”

First-year Pickens coach John Boggs gave the Green Wave credit after dropping his first game leading his alma mater.

Tommy McGaha/Courier Pickens’ Jamal Blythe upends Easley’s during their game Friday night at Green Wave Stadium.

Tommy McGaha/Courier
Pickens’ Jamal Blythe upends Easley’s during their game Friday night at Green Wave Stadium.

“My hat’s off to them,” he said. “Both times when we scored and took the lead and scored to cut it to six, they were able to come right back and answer on both of those drives. Great teams do that. … They made some big plays. I thought our kids fought their tails off. I thought we played as hard as we could possibly play and as physical as we could play. We just quite couldn’t get it done. We didn’t make the plays to win the ballgame — partly credit to Easley and partly credit to we’ve just got to get better.”

Easley senior quarterback Dalton Black was the difference in the game — his third start in the series — finishing 17-of-26 for 290 yards and four scores, with another erased by penalty.

“I thought (Black) played a heck of a game for them tonight,” Boggs said. “He made some big throws when he needed to. He’s a three-year starter, a tough guy and he sits in there and made some throws when he needed to.”

However, it was an early interception of Black by Pickens’ Sam Lawson that had the Blue Flame in business early.

Back-to-back offside penalties and a 14-yard Tanner Stegall pass to Gunner Covey had the Blue Flame deep in Easley territory, but on third and five at the Green Wave 23, Stegall’s pitch to tailback Brandon Batson was fumbled and recovered by Ivan Hill.

“We had a pretty decent drive going there, and you’re at least hoping with our kicker that you’re going to get three out of it,” Boggs said. “In the end, that wasn’t the difference in the game, and if we had punched that in, it would not have been the difference in the game.

“Everything in a high school game like that matters as far as keeping momentum going and getting the lead when you need to get one. We obviously have got some work to do. We’re better now than where we were a week ago. We’re making improvements. My hat’s off to them — they’re a good football team. It was a great football game, great crowd. It was classy — both sides handled everything classy. Nobody was talking trash after the game, and that’s a credit to both schools.”

The Green Wave capitalized on the early turnover, with Black converting on third and five and then hitting Holden Martin for a touchdown that was erased due to penalty. The Green Wave eventually settled for a 36-yard Josh Holden field goal with 3:06 left in the first quarter, making it 3-0. The drive covered 10 plays.

Both teams struggled on their next possessions. A backward pass and a sack of Black by Ridge Clark forced a Green Wave punt.

Pickens then drove 57 yards in nine plays to take the lead. Stegall had a big 24-yard scramble on third down at the 46, and then five plays later, facing third and 13, found a wide-open Kirkland Gillespie down the right side for a 21-yard scoring strike.

“He’s got guts,” Boggs said of his sophomore quarterback. “The touchdown pass he threw, he took it right in the face when he got rid of the ball — that’s Tanner Stegall for you. He’s tough. He’s hard-nosed. He’s got a lot of talent. Big stage under the lights and he’s sophomore. I don’t know that I was ready to play at that age. We’re throwing him out there trying to drive the car. I was happy with how hard our kids played. We’re not happy with losing and we never will be. But I thought our kids fought their tails off.”

Matt Gravely’s kick made it 7-3 with 8:09 left in the half.

But Easley had an answer for every Pickens threat Friday night. In response, Black led a 13-play, 80-yard drive, converting three third downs in the process. Facing second and 10 at the 19, Black hit Carter Wiles on the right side just past Jamal Blythe for the score with 2:34 left in the half, making it 10-7.

“We threw the ball well, and it starts with good protection,” Windham said. “We struggled to do at times what we wanted to do, but our passing game really helped out.”

Easley seized more momentum on its first possession of the second half. After two dropped passes, Black hit Martin on a slip screen, and the senior scampered 62-yards for the score. The kick hit the right upright and missed, making it 16-7 with 8:56 left in the third quarter.

Defenses held on the next possessions. Gravely and Cole Seaborn stopped runners for loss on the first two down, and then a pass fell incomplete.

The Blue Flame offense then got going thanks to a roughing the passer penalty and a pass interference call. The drive stalled a yard short at the Easley 27, and Gravely hit a 44-yard field goal to make it 16-10 with 2:11 left in the quarter.

But Easley regained the momentum. Again, first and second down produced losses as Clark and Corbin Hinkle had big tackles. But on third and 13, Black hit Tyrese Bradley. Four plays later, following another third-down conversion, Black hit Bralan Fuller all alone for a 45-yard scoring strike with 11:47 to go in the game as two defenders collided on the play. The second conversion was due to a pass interference call that the Blue Flame sideline disagreed with.

The Green Wave scored on the next possession, too. Facing a fourth and nine at the 22 following Renny Croley and Aakil Sitton pass breakups, Black found Fuller on a post pattern in front of Sitton for the score with 7:45 left. Sitton blocked the kick after a bad snap, making it 29-10.

Easley’s Ta’von Hicks picked off a deep Stegall pass on the Flame’s next possession, but the Green Wave had to punt and Pickens rallied for a late score. Covey took it the final three yards with 6.8 seconds left to make the final 29-17.

Easley will play at Daniel next week, while Pickens will play host to Pendleton, ranked in the top 10 in Class AA, in its home opener.

“(Pendleton coach Paul) Sutherland and those guys have done a great job over there for several years,” Boggs said. “It’s our home opener, and we’re excited about that. We want every business and home in town next week to be empty and pack the stands out.”