TOUCHDOWN! - Saluda’s Jamarion Mathis makes a spectacular touchdown catch against Batesburg-Leesville in the Tigers’ 52-34 win over the Panthers Friday. (Photo by Trey Fingerlin)
Tigers Roar Past Panthers, 52-34
Saluda earned a spot in the state play-offs in the best way possible, beating arch-rival Batesburg-Leesville 52-34 before a packed Bettis Herlong Stadium at Matthews Field on Senior Night, Fri. Oct. 30.
Despite their excellent 7-2 record, the only way the Tigers could get into the play-offs was to defeat the 7-2 Panthers. Saluda’s loss to Ninety Six in the first region game of the year gave the Wildcats the tie-breaker, and a trip to the post-season with a Saluda defeat.
The Tigers would have none of that, becoming the first Tiger team since 1973 to win eight games during the regular season.
B&L got the opening kick-off of the game, picked up a couple of first downs, but eventually were forced to punt from the 48-yard-line.
Saluda’s 295-lb sophomore nose-guard Kalijiha Brown broke through and blocked the punt and the Tigers recovered at the Panther 33-yard-line. Passes from quarterback Forrest Winn to DQ Abney for nine yards and 20 to Jamarion Mathis, the latter on fourth down, set up Malik Brooks four-yard touchdown run with 6:17 to go in the first quarter. Dylan Strickland’s kick gave Saluda a lead they would never relinquish.
B&L drove to the Saluda 31 on their possession after the kick-off, but that threat died on fourth down and the Tigers took over at their own 36.
On first the Tigers pulled out one of several plays they had been saving all year. Winn threw a lateral pass to DQ Abney who threw to Mathis for a 49-yard gain to the Panther 15. On third down at the nine, Winn threw to a wide open Hunter Coleman for the touchdown. Strickland upped Saluda’s lead to 14-0 with just 48 seconds to go in the opening quarter.
The Panthers took to the air to get back into the game. Two passes, totalling 68 yards, got B&L to the Saluda nine. On third down at the two, outstanding tailback Terrence Wilson scored. Alex Caughman’s kick cut Saluda’s lead to 14-7 with 10:40 to go in the first half.
The Tigers responded with a 71-yard, nine play scoring drive. The running of Brooks and quarterback Tyrell Abney sparked the march. Brooks scored his second touchdown of the night on a four-yard run. Strickland was true on the kick and the Tigers led 21-7 with 8:01 to go.
In less that two minutes, it was be 21-14. Saluda was flagged for a 15-yard facemask penalty on the kick-off and the Panthers started at the Saluda 39. A 29-yard pass from quarterback Mike Smith to Mikal Hartley, set up Wilson 10-yard scoring run.
Saluda came back with a 57-yard scoring march. The passing of Tyrell Abney was the highlight, as he threw his first touchdown pass of the season, an eight-yarder to another Abney, DQ. Strickland’s kick completed the first half scoring, with Saluda up 28-14.
The Tigers kept the momentum going to start the second half. Back-to-back 20-yards runs by Brooks and Winn, set up Tyrell Abney’s second touchdown pass of the night, 24-yards to Mathis. Strickland’s PAT gave the Tigers a 35-14 led with 9:59 to go in the third quarter.
A 49-yard run by Wilson, after he broke a tackle behind the line, put the Panthers at the Saluda 15-yard line. B&L could only get as close as the and on fourth down, Saluda’s Tabarus Kinard intercepted the Panther pass and returned it to the 10-yard line.
From there the Tigers put together a clock-eating 90-yard drive, which fizzled at the Panther 15-yard-line. Strickland came in and kicked a 33-yard field goal, giving Saluda a 38-14 lead with 3:08 to go in the quarter.
The Panthers were far from giving up and began to make things interesting.
After the Saluda kick-off, B&L marched 75-yards in 11-plays. Wilson scored his third TD of the night on a three-yard run on the last play of the quarter. Wilson then threw to Hartley for the two-point play and Saluda’s lead was cut to 38-22.
On Saluda’s next possession, the Tigers did something they had not done all night - punt. Winn’s 40-yarder put the Panthers at their own 15. They moved to the 48, where Wilson broke free for a 52-yard scoring run. The run for two failed and Saluda’s comfortable lead was cut to 38-28 with 8:44 still to go in the game.
The Tigers needed to answer to get some breathing room and they did just that. Starting at their 23 after the kick-off, the Tigers stayed on the ground to march distance in six plays. The big play was a 45-yard run by Brooks to the Panther 30-yard-line. The touchdown came on a one-yard Brooks run and Strickland’s kick gave the Tigers a 45-28, supposedly comfortable lead, with 5:30 to go in the game, but that Halloween nightmare called Wilson came back to haunt the Tigers again.
On a third and 21 play, Panther quarterback Bishop Cannon hit Wilson on a short pass and he turned it into a 44-yard gain to the Saluda 23-yard line. Cannon gained 20 to the three on first down, then Marcus West scored on the next play. The PAT was no good and Saluda lead was cut to 45-34 with 4:30 to go.
The Tigers did not let the Panthers stage any more heroics. B&L’s onside kick was not successful and the Tigers got the ball at their own 47, and behind Brooks and Tyrell Abney’s rushing attack moved to the Panther 24, where Brooks sprinted in for his 13th touchdown in the last three games, and Strickland scored his 20th kicking point in the last three games. The Tigers led 52-34 with just 1:02 to go in the game.
The two teams combined for 1022-yards in total offense, with Saluda getting 532 and the Panthers getting 494.
Brooks rushed 26-times for 177-yards, and Tyrell Abney gained 80-yards on 13 carries.
Winn, Tyrell Abney and DQ Abney combined to complete 14 of 17 passes for 239-yards. In the last three games, Saluda passers have completed a remarkable 76 percent of their throws, 33 of 43.
The 52-points is the most Saluda has ever scored against Batesburg-Leesville, and is one of the many records the 2015 team has already broken in just 10 games.
The 362 points scored is the most any Saluda team has ever scored in the 10-game regular season. The total is already more than three of Saluda’s greatest teams ever scored: 1941 State Champs - 343 in 12 games; 1962 State Champs - 342 in 13 games; and 1963 State Champs - 316 in 13 games.
Saluda needs just ten points in their play-off game to break the all-time scoring total, 371, of the 1973 Tigers.
Brooks upped his all-time leading season rusher total to 1534 yards and touchdown total to 26.
Strickland became Saluda’s all-time leader for points scored by a kicker, 54 points, breaking Brian Bushey’s 52-points in 2009.
Mathis had one of the best receiving games in school history, hauling in nine passes for 186-yards.
Saluda’s play-off opponent has not been determined due to the fact the regular season was extended for a week because of games cancelled by the flooding. Those cancelled games are scheduled for Friday night.
It is hoped the Tigers will host a playoff game on Fri., Nov. 13.
Saluda High School offensive lineman Cortez Herrin, OL,has been named to the 2015 North-South All-Star team.
Cortez, an East Carolina football commit, will be playing in the All-Star game on Saturday, December 11, 2015 in Myrtle Beach, SC.
Cortez makes the third Herrin brother to make the All-Star team. His oldest brother Chris was a 2011 All-Star for Strom Thurmond High School, his brother Cedric was a 2013 All-Star for Saluda (and was named Captain by his teammates), and now Cortez is a 2015 All-Star.