Overtime thriller vaults THA to state semifinals
Thomas Heyward’s road to Columbia hasn’t required much of a commute.
The Rebels won last Friday’s opening-round SCISA Class A state playoff game 20-14 in overtime over Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach at their home field.
This Friday, Thomas Heyward (9-2), a No. 1 seed from Region 1, faces Pee Dee (7-4), a No. 2 seed from Region 2, at home in a state semifinal. A win propels the Rebels to the state final at Charles Johnson Stadium in Columbia Nov. 18 against either Dillon Christian or Carolina Academy.
THA quarterback Logan Thomas said being at home and feeding off the Rebels’ fans motivates the team.
“The home crowd really helps push us,” Thomas said. “You can definitely feel their presence here. You want to show off more in front of your home crowd.”
Coach Nic Shuford said being home against Pee Dee is an advantage. Last season, THA lost in the playoffs at Pee Dee, 42-35.
“Not being on a bus for 3½ hours, staying on normal routine here, that is a huge advantage,” he said.
Thomas Heyward survived against fourth-seeded Christian Academy. The Rebels played the second half without leading rusher J.R. Patterson, who was sidelined with a left elbow injury sustained in the first half, but rallied from a 14-7 fourth-quarter deficit.
In overtime, after the Rebels’ defense stopped the Saints on a fourth-and-1 attempt on Christian Academy’s first possession, River Pender ran 5 yards on first down, and Thomas called a trap and spun his way into the end zone for the clinching touchdown, and the team’s eighth straight win.
Thomas Heyward trailed 14-7 in the fourth quarter, but tied the game on an 11-play, 52-yard drive that culminated in Joseph Gibson diving on a fumble in the end zone. C.J. Cleland’s extra point tied the score 14-14 with 3:15 remaining.
Pender, who had 23 yards rushing on the drive (58 overall) and helped the Rebels gain momentum in the quarter, lost the ball just before the goal line, but Gibson jumped on the ball to save the drive.
Christian Academy (6-4) drove to Thomas Heyward’s 19-yard line with 4.9 seconds remaining in regulation, but the Saints’ 36-yard field goal attempt fell short.
The Saints had the first overtime possession – starting from the 10-yard line – and reach the 1-yard line, but they fumbled the snap on fourth down and failed to gain a yard.
Thomas finished with 81 yards rushing on 12 carries – 10 attempts coming in the second half. He was also 4-of-8 passing for 55 yards.
“Not having J.R. is a big loss, but it’s the next-man-up mentality,” said Thomas, who celebrated his 18th birthday Saturday.
Patterson entered the game with 1,645 rushing yards. His status for the semifinal will be determined this week, Shuford said.
Christian Academy, which had five turnovers, took the lead early. It recovered a squib kick to begin the game and scored on an 8-play, 51-yard drive, capped by Brandon McCauley’s 22-yard TD pass to Jalen Matthews.
After a Saints turnover, Thomas fired a 26-yard scoring pass to Dalton Steedley to tie it 7-7.
Christian Academy lost a fumble on THA’s 17-yard line in the second quarter, but a Rebels turnover led to a Christian Academy 16-yard touchdown pass from McCauley to John Sessums that put CA ahead 14-7.
Gibson, Zach Bond, John Hewlett and Bryce Tillotson had fumble recoveries for THA. Bond (27 total tackles) also had an interception. Tillotson had 19 total tackles.
Pee Dee, which beat Colleton Prep 49-20 last week, is led by Jake Lane (2,878 yards, 36 TDs). Four receivers have more than 30 receptions, including McKinley Smith (33 receptions, 15 TDs).
“We have to practice even harder,” said Bobby Payne, a safety, who had 10 tackles. “We aren’t done yet.”
The Rebels are looking to advance to a state championship game for the first time since 2012, when they lost the Class AA final to Hilton Head Prep.