OPENING THE GAP - Saluda’s offensive line did their job Friday in the Tigers’ 24-7 win at Chesterfield, opening holes for Malik Brooks for rush for 215 yards and score three touchdowns. Also pictured are Cortez Herrin (75), Forrest Winn (2) and Ravon Richardson (54). (Photo by Trey Fingerlin)
BEAT CHESTERFIELD 24-7
Tigers Upper State Bound!
For the first time since 1973, the Saluda High School Fighting Tigers will play for the Upper State Championship.
The Tigers earned the right to meet old rival and region foe Abbeville by claiming a hard fought 24-7 win at Chesterfield Friday.
While the final score looks one sided, the Tigers entered the fourth quarter leading only 10-7. The running of outstanding junior tailback Malik Brooks and two interceptions by freshman defensive back CJ Brooks proved to be the difference makers.
A 33-yard run by Brooks set up Saluda’s first score of the night. The 51-yard drive took five plays. Brooks scored the touchdown on a one-yard run, after an 11-yard run by quarterback Tyrell Abney set it up. Dylan Strickland kicked the PAT and Saluda led 7-0 with 3:41 to go in the first quarter.
Like last week when the Tigers continually let Keenan back into the game after a Saluda score, Chesterfield quickly knotted the contest.
The Rams John Johnson fielded Strickland’s kick at his own 29 and returned it all the way to the Saluda 11. Facing fourth down at the five, the Rams went to the air, and quarterback Savion Watson passed to Makhal Gaston for the score. Michael Smith’s kick tied the game with 2:09 to go in the first quarter.
Saluda entered the contest average over 35 points a game and Chesterfield scoring nearly 40, but the first half ended in the 7-7 tie.
Saluda had a major scoring threat go by the wayside on their first possession of the second quarter. With fourth and three at the Chesterfield ten-yard-line, the Tigers opted to go for it and Abney was tackled for a four-yard loss. Another threat ended when Abney’s pass was intercepted at the Ram 20.
Only 1:53 remained in the third quarter when Saluda got on the scoreboard again. The Tigers faced fourth down at the Chesterfield 11, and this time called on Strickland, who was true on a 28-yard field goal giving the Tigers a 10-7 lead.
The Rams came back to threaten to score, but Bosket intercepted Watson’s pass the Tiger 11-yard-line.
Abney’s second interception toss of the game early in the fourth quarter put Chesterfield in good scoring position at the Tiger 45.
The Rams drove to the Saluda 18, where Smith came on to attempt a game-tying field goal. The Tigers jumped off side, and after the walk-off Chesterfield decided to go for it on fourth and two. The pass to the end zone was incomplete.
The Tigers took over at their 13 and couldn’t move. Forrest Winn’s punt gave the Rams the ball at the Saluda 40. Chesterfield drove to the Saluda 15, and Bosket came up big time again, with an interception in the end zone.
Starting at the 20, the Tigers knew the clock needed to be run down and who better to get the ball than Brooks. On three straight carries Brooks gained 14, 11 and 22-yards respectively. Abney then got the call on two straight runs and gained five and 20 to the Chesterfield eight. Brooks gained seven yards on first down, then scored on the next play from the one. Strickland’s kick gave the Tigers a little breathing room, upping the lead to 17-7 with 3:23 to go in the game.
The Tiger defense came through in the clutch on Chesterfield next possession. On first down at the 30 after the kickoff, Chesterfield attempted to take to the air, but quarterback Danzel Lewis was tackled for a ten-yard loss by 295-lb. sophomore noseguard Kalijiha Brown. On the next play Lewis slipped on the damp turf for a loss of eight more yards. On fourth and 28, Lewis’ pass was incomplete and Saluda got the ball at the Ram 11.
A five-yard penalty moved the ball to the six, where Brooks scored his third touchdown of the night. Strickland’s kick gave Saluda a comfortable 24-7 lead with 2:08 to go in the game, and it would stay that way.
Brooks was the Tiger workhorse, rushing 37 times for 215-yards and three scores. The junior has shattered all Saluda rushing and scoring records, with over 2000-yards and scoring 30 touchdowns.
Saluda’s passing game has missed receiver Denasjee Posey since he was injured early in the Keenan game and did not dress out Friday. Winn completed six of eight passes for 83 yards. The only two passes Abney completed were the two Chesterfield interceptions.
The Tiger defense deserves much of the credit for the win. Chesterfield’s lowest prior point total during the year was 21, but they managed only seven against Saluda and that was set-up by a long kick-off return.
The Rams were held to minus 36 yards rushing and gained only 136-yards through the air on 13 of 30 passing for a total offense of only 100-yards.
The Tigers, who finished the 2014 season with a 2-8 record, raised their 2015 season’s mark to 10-2, the most wins since that 1973 team that finished 11-1.
Friday, the Tigers travel to Abbeville to take on the Panthers, who claimed a 31-29 last second win over Batesburg-Leesville in the second round.
This will be Saluda’s second trip to Hite Field, which is named for Tommie Hite, who coached the 1941 Saluda team to the State Championship before coaching for many years at Abbeville.
The Tigers first trip was not pleasant, as the Panthers scored on eight of nine possessions en route to a 48-20 win. The Tigers got over 300-yards in total offense, but could not match Abbeville score for score.
Saluda fans filled the Chesterfield visitors side in a stadium 130 miles away. Abbeville’s stadium is a lost closer, but a lot smaller.
Be there early! Kick-off is at 7:30 p.m.