Despite a three touchdown game from junior quarterback Armani Bunbury, Screven County High School fell 32-25 to Bluffton High School (S.C.) at Paulson Stadium in the Erk Russell Classic.
Momentum was already leaning to the side of Bluffton with the score tied 25-25 with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Bobcats had just scored two unanswered touchdowns going back to the third quarter, and Screven was driving to try and take back the lead.
On what seemed like a simple carry up the middle, all-state defensive tackle/fullback CJ Wright was gang-tackled to the ground -- with his helmet coming off in the process. Wright laid on the ground for 30-some odd minutes while dozens of trainers and medical professionals gathered around him to put him on a stretcher and carry him off the field.
“His health is our first concern,” said head coach Ron Duncan. “We know he at least has a concussion. We’ll pray for his best and we’re going to do our best without him for now.”
Two drives later with less than two minutes to go, Bunbury went back to pass on a third down when we was blindsided by Bluffton’s Richard Jenkins on a vicious sack. Bunbury lost the ball and it was recovered by the Bobcats’ Chris Brantley inside the Gamecock 10. Three plays later Jenkins, who had made the strip sack, got to finish off the job to score the final touchdown with 20 seconds left in the game.
“We just have to leave that in the past,” Bunbury said. “They had a really nice line. What we really need to do is get in shape.”
To add insult to injury, the two sides combined for 28 flags and a total of 240 penalty yards in a game where the officiating seemed to have no rhyme or reason. The penalties, Wright’s injury and 20 incompletions from both sides drew the game out over three hours , on top of a 45 minute delay caused by lightning.
“I really can’t comment on officials,” Duncan said. “I’m not trying to get fined over here. It is what it is. Some of those were judgement calls and they didn’t go our way.”
The game couldn’t have started any more the opposite than it ended for Screven County. Down 7-6 in the second quarter, Bunbury threw a jump ball to junior Tyquan Johnson who made an acrobatic catch over two defenders for a touchdown. On the next drive, Screven came back down the field with the exact same play — and the exact same result. Johnson scored his second touchdown of the game to put Screven ahead 19-10 with 1:53 left in the first half.
The Gamecocks came out of the gate strong in the second half. Screven marched down the field to cap off a 71-yard drive with a two-yard run from Wright. But up 25-10, the wheels began to fall off. The perimeter rushing attack of Bluffton began to wear down Screven County and two scores followed to tie the game up at 25 — including a 71-yard run from I’keim Jefferson.
Bluffton went on to amass 219 yards rushing at 5.5 yards a pop, including 17 runs over five yards and five over 10 yards. Jefferson and Jermaine Patterson combined for most of the damage, going for 201 yards on three touchdowns. Patterson was especially hard to contain, as he had 102 rushing, 33 passing and 28 receiving yards and two scores on the ground.
“It was really hard trying to contain him,” said junior defensive end Kendrick Cox. “I did my best to maintain my position and stand my ground. But he was awesome anyways.”
Buried underneath the general weirdness of the game were some nice games from different Gamecocks — most notably Cox, who had eight tackles, six for loss and a sack.
Offensively, the Gamecocks were led by Bunbury, who totaled 158 yards on the ground and in the air. The aforementioned Johnson had three catches for 38 yards on top of his two scores and junior Kim Hunter had nine carried for 49 yards.
“I’ll always give it all I got, no matter what,” Bunbury said. “Even when we lose, we’re going to fight to the end.”
Screven County (0-1) will take the week off next week before taking a long road trip up to Greenville, SC to take on Wade Hampton High School. Kick off is set for 7:30 p.m.