Tioers In Upper State Title Game

TEAMING UP - Saluda linebackers Demond Johnson and Bubba Robinsosn bring doqn a Lee Central running back in Friday’s hard-fought 30-26 win over the Stallions. (Photo by Trey Fingerlin)

Upper State Bound Again!

  For the third year in a row, the Saluda Tigers have advanced to the 2-A Upper State Championship game, and for the third straight year the game will be at Abbeville against the old nemesis Panthers, who have claimed the last two meetings and have gone on to win the state title.
  Making the game this year required the Tigers to win three heart-stopping games that weren’t decided until the fourth quarter.
  Friday, Saluda hosted 11-1 Lee Central, and came away with a 30-26 win. Like the first two play-off games, the Tigers had to come from behind, but unlike the first two, it was the opponent who staged a fourth quarter uprising.
  I did not take long for the Stallions to show they came to play. The Tigers received the opening kick-off and earned one first down before punting.
  Ashton Parkman punted to the Stallion 38, and on first down running back Deondraye Moses gained 30-yards to set the stage for the first score of the night. Quarterback Ti’juan Durant scored the first touchdown of the game on an one-yard run. The kick failed and LC led 6-0 with 6:32 to go in the first quarter.
  The Tigers responded with a 60-yard drive that died at the Stallion 15. Francisco Yepez came in to kick a 32-yard field goal with 57.7 to go in the quarter, cutting Lee Central’s lead in half.
  Early in the second quarter, a pass from Noah Bell was deflected off O’Syruis Springs’ hands into the arms of a Stallion defensive back.
  Taking over at the Saluda 31, Lee Central drove in for the score in five plays. Mike Watters scored the touchdown on a one yard run. Corey King kicked the PAT, giving the Stallions a 13-3 lead with 8:39 to go in the half.
  The rest of the quarter belonged to the “Comeback Kids.”
  Bell scored on a five-yard run, ending an 80-yard rive that took eight plays. Yepez made the score 13-10 with 5:53 to go in the half.
  On the Tigers’ next possession, Bell’s 40-yard run set up his 13-yard scoring pass to Jay Baker. Yepez missed the kick, but the Tigers gained the lead at 16-13, with 2:28 to go.
  Senior Demond Johnson was the hero of Saluda’s last score of the half. As time was running out, Johnson picked off Durant’s pass and returned it to the Stallion ten-yard-line. On second down, Johnson was on the receiving end of Bell’s five yard touchdown pass. Yepez’ kick gave the Tigers a 23-13 lead with 25.3 to go in the half.
  Lee Central cut the lead to 23-20 after a 65-yard drive that ended with a seven-yard run by  Shamari Simon.  King kicked the PAT at the 4:51 mark in the third quarter.
  As they did in the first half, the Tigers responded immediately with a 65-yard scoring drive. A 30-yard pass from Bell to tight end Caleb McDaniel set up Bell’s 11-yard scoring pass to Springs. Yepez upped Saluda’s lead to 30-20 with 2:28 to go in the third quarter.
  The first two play-off games the Tigers entered the fourth quarter trailing and rallied to win. Friday, it was the Tigers who had to hold on for dear life.
  After Saluda scored, Lee Central began at the 15 following Yepez’ kick-off. It took the Stallions 14 plays to move in for the score that came on an a two-yard run by Simon. The kick failed and the Tiger lead was cut to 30-26 with 8:01 to go in the game.
  Kentavious Burton fielded a line drive kick-off at the Tiger 41, but Saluda was unable to move and Parkman punted to the Stallion 11.
  Saluda’s defense came through and forced a punt, but the Tigers’ return man Baker muffed he ball and Lee Central recovered at the Stallion 41.
  Lee Central was not able to take advantage of the miscue, and a fourth down pass fell incomplete and Saluda took over LC 33. A 15-yard penalty against the Tigers made things interesting at the end.
  On fourth down with 11 seconds to go, Bell ran off seven seconds. The Stallions took over and Durant’s Hall Mary attempt fell incomplete.
  Saluda fans left the game with their hearts racing for the third straight week. They may have witnessed a record breaking performance that is not one that needs to be recorded.
  Saluda managed 276-yards on offense, and Lee Central 255, but the two teams combined to get 240-yards in penalties on 27-flags between them
  Saluda had 11 penalties and Lee Central got an unbelievable 16 infractions. There was one drive in the game when the two teams got 90-yards penalties between them.
  On the positive side, Bell led the rushing  with  70-yards and one score and threw three touchdown passes.
  The Tigers found a “late bloomer’ in Johnson. Last week, Johnson caught his first pass of the year and it went for a 54-yards score, and this week he caught his second pass of the year and it, too, went for a score.
  After gaining 15-yards on his one  rush this season against Central two weeks ago, Johnson rushed eight times for 63-yards Friday.
  It will be “deja vu all over again” Friday when the Tigers trek to Hite Field in Abbeville to take on the Panthers in the Upper State Championship game.
  In 2015, the Panthers coasted to a 36-10 win. Last year, Saluda fell 21-16, but Tigers fans were sure the better team did not win. After both games, the Panthers were on to win the state championship.
  Last Friday, the Panthers edged Cheraw from Lee Central’s conference 14-7. In the head to head meeting Lee Central beat Cheraw 14-7, so this should be another classic Tiger-Panther match-up.
  In raising their record to 12-1, the Tigers join the 2015 and 2016 teams to become first in Saluda High teams in history to play for the Upper State championship for three straight years.
  Kick-off is at 7:30 p.m.