Yellow Jackets topple Wave in region opener

By Ryan Davenport
For The Courier

Easley – The Easley Green Wave dropped to 0-1 in the Region I-5A race with a 37-26 loss to the young but talented and gritty T.L. Hanna Yellow Jackets on Friday night.

A relatively close game broke in Hanna’s favor early in the fourth quarter. A fourth and 10 first-down completion seemingly helped the Yellow Jackets’ running game suddenly find its footing, but an interception to end an Easley drive deep into Hanna territory turned the tide for good. In the game’s final eight minutes, the Yellow Jackets compiled 119 of their 175 total rushing yards, a statistic that was definitive of the momentum that carried Hanna to victory.

10-3 Page 1B copy.inddMuch of the first half was a hard-fought defensive struggle. The Green Wave took the opening kickoff and moved to midfield behind a 23-yard pass completion from Weston Black to Bralan Fuller, but the drive stalled at Easley’s own 45. Hanna’s ensuing three plays accounted for zero total yards thanks to a hard-driving Green Wave defense, led for much of the night by seniors Caleb Hill and Allen Cheagle and sophomore Dawson Wilson. The Wave quickly went three-and-out on the game’s next possession, but a 35-yard punt return by Hanna’s Braylan Peterson gave his offense an edge in momentum and field position.

Starting from the Easley 39, Hanna’s fast-paced no-huddle offense caught the Wave off-guard. Using barely any play-clock time, Hanna sophomore Alex Meredith completed passes of eight and 25 yards to Peterson. Two plays later, sophomore Jaydon McKinney sprinted into the end zone from four yards out for the first of his three rushing touchdowns on the evening. A bad snap on the extra point attempt left the Yellow Jackets holding a 6-0 lead with 4:54 to go in the first quarter.

After both teams could muster little offensive production on the next two series, the Green Wave decided to ride the back of workhorse Will Drawdy. Drawdy’s five runs for 30 yards combined with a 10-yard completion from Black to Levi Segee moved the Wave to Hanna’s 25-yard line just after the first quarter ended.

10-3 Page 1B copy.inddOn the first play of the second quarter, Drawdy found space on the left side of the line and slipped past most of the Yellow Jackets’ defense for 25 yards and the touchdown. Unfortunately for the Green Wave, the extra point snap was high and forced the holder to get the football set a bit late, helping kicker Nathan Baker push the point-after kick wide, leaving the scoreboard even at 6-6.

Kerry Gilstrap/Courier
Easley quarterback Weston Black tries to escape a T.L. Hanna defender during the Yellow Jacket’s 37-26 win over the Green Wave on Friday Night.

The next five minutes of game clock saw neither team end a drive beyond the 50-yard line. One of those Hanna punts forced Easley’s offense to start from its own 5-yard line. Three plays later, Black was tackled in his own end zone to give the Jackets an 8-6 lead with 6:46 remaining in the half.

10-3 Page 1B copy.inddOn Easley’s next possession, this one starting from the Wave’s own 8, Black was sacked and fumbled, with the Jackets recovering at the Green Wave 3. Two plays later, Darius Blanding ran into the end zone untouched to put the Yellow Jackets ahead 15-6 with 3:14 left in the opening half, a score that stood until the intermission.

Easley closed the gap 1:35 into the second half. Sean-Thomas Faulkner took a punt at his own 48 before zig-zagging his way down the right sideline, slipping past tackle attempts from most of the Jackets’ coverage team. He found the end zone 52 yards later. Baker’s extra point try was good, cutting Hanna’s lead to 15-13.

Hanna momentarily got its rushing attack in gear on the next drive, with three big runs from McKinney carrying the Jackets to the Easley 40. That drive stalled, as did Hanna’s next possession, giving the Green Wave a chance.

The Wave finally capitalized with 5:01 to play in the third quarter. Easley completed a one-play drive when Black’s pass to Tyrese Bradley slipped under a leaping Hanna defender and into Bradley’s hands. Bradley raced into the end zone untouched for a 58-yard passing play and the Wave’s first and only lead. Baker’s extra point put Easley ahead 20-15.

The Green Wave held that lead until the 10:44 mark of the fourth quarter. A 25-yard run from Meredith, who accounted for 69 rushing yards in the fourth quarter, and a quick slant to fellow sophomore Jay Lagroon carried the Jackets to the Easley 26. Three straight incompletions had the potential to kill the drive, but Meredith dumped a pass in the backfield to McKinney on fourth and 10 when all of the quarterback’s downfield options were secured by Easley defenders.

McKinney broke for 10 yards before Faulkner could sprint in from his safety spot to force him out of bounds. The chain crew brought the sticks out, and Hanna was awarded the first down by a nose. Two ensuing incompletions and a fumble were helped by an Easley penalty that allowed Hanna to repeat third down at the 7-yard line. Two plays later, McKinney’s second rushing touchdown of the night put Hanna back in front. The Yellow Jackets’ two-point conversion attempt began with a McKinney fumble, but Hanna recovered the rolling football in the end zone to increase its lead to 23-20 with 10:40 left in the game.

10-3 Page 1B copy.inddThe Green Wave did not quit. Faulkner entered at quarterback, but could not generate more than two yards on two rushes. Black returned and underthrew Bradley in the middle of the field, but Bradley fought back to the ball for the catch and an eventual gain of 43 yards. Easley moved the ball as far as the Hanna 20, but Black’s slant to Fuller was intercepted by Hanna’s Cam’Ron Boseman.

Kerry Gilstrap/Courier
Easley’s Isaiah Ferguson gets past a T.L. Hanna defender during their game Friday night.

Hanna proceeded to burn valuable clock time with a nine-play, 92-yard drive that drained 3:17 from the game clock. Meredith broke a zone-read for 36 yards to move the chains to the Green Wave 42. Lagroon carried multiple tacklers on his back to move the offense to the Easley 13. Meredith escaped Easley’s Dorian Robinson in the backfield to complete a critical third and 16 pass to put Hanna at the 1-yard line, from which Blanding bulled in to give the Yellow Jackets a 30-20 lead with 4:41 remaining.

It took Easley two plays to answer. Black’s pass into double coverage on the right sideline was caught by Drawdy, who turned on the jets and outran three Hanna defenders to complete an 80-yard touchdown play. Another errant extra point snap resulted in no point-after kick, leaving Hanna clinging to a 30-26 lead with 3:32 to play.

Hanna wasted no time nailing down the win. McKinney bounced off a wall of tacklers and sprinted 26 yards for the game’s final score, his third of the night, putting the Yellow Jackets ahead 37-26.

With the loss, the Green Wave fell to 3-4 overall and will travel to powerhouse Westside this Friday night. T.L. Hanna is now 4-3 overall and 1-0 in Region I-5A.