Ch­ester fin­ishes un­beaten sea­son, holds off Dil­lon for Class 3A ti­tle

The Herald (Rock Hill) - - Front Page - BY BRET MCCORMICK bm­c­[email protected]­al­don­line.com

Fi­nally all back to­gether in their locker room in the bow­els of Wil­liams-Brice Sta­dium, the Ch­ester Cy­clones knelt and prayed. They said amen and their coach, Vic­tor Floyd, be­gan to speak to them.

“They said all year, we haven’t played any­body, we’re too small, not good enough... look at us now!”

Floyd threw his arms open and the Cy­clones roared. They held off a fu­ri­ous come­back by Dil­lon Fri­day night, best­ing the Wild­cats 34-28 to cap a 15-0 sea­son and win the school’s first state ti­tle since schools were in­te­grated in the 1970s.

The Cy­clones jumped out to a 21-6 lead and held on late when the Wild­cats cut the lead to six. Dil­lon came back from a 21- point deficit to win the 2017 state ti­tle, but couldn’t over­come turnovers this time. Ches- ter fum­bled a punt snap and the Wild­cats drove down to the Ch­ester 9-yard line. But Cy- clones de­fen­sive end Teddy Mur­phy hunted down Dil­lon QB Jay Lester and sacked him on fourth down to send the Ch­ester side­line into emo­tional frenzy.

“Just re­lieved, re­lieved,” said Cy­clones coach Vic­tor Floyd, fi­nally smil­ing af­ter a long sea­son. “We made it real dif­fi­cult down the stretch with some turnovers. Just re­lieved.”

Ch­ester lost its two pre­vi­ous state cham­pi­onship ap­pear­ances, 14-12 to Wil­son in 2007 and 31-21 to Myr­tle Beach in 2008. Dil­lon was play­ing in its seventh straight state ti­tle game, hav­ing won five of the pre­vi­ous six.

But the Cy­clones looked like the ex­pe­ri­enced, savvy state cham­pi­onship-tested bunch in the first quar­ter. Pha’Leak Brown took a hand­off on the open­ing play from scrim­mage and raced 49 yards for a touch­down. Things got bet­ter for Ch­ester be­fore the quar­ter ended, Stan Mills step­ping in front of a Lester pass and run­ning 96 yards for an­other touch­down, and a 13-0 lead.

“The start was big and I stressed that all week,” said Floyd. “I wor­ried about the bright lights.”

It was 21-6 at half­time and 34-12 with a cou­ple min­utes left in the third quar­ter when Brown punched in a 1-yard score, his third of the game. The party was be­gin­ning in the Ch­ester stands, but there was too much time left and Dil­lon be­gan to crawl back into the game. Justin Green got be­hind the Cy­clone de­fense for a 62-yard TD, then Ah­mari Bruce-Huggins scored on a 9-yard re­verse to set up the knuckle-bit­ing end­ing.

“I was shak­ing,” said Ch­ester’s stand­out line­man, Wy­att Tu­nall. “It ain’t real yet, prom­ise you.”

TURN­ING POINT

Ch­ester han­dled the im­por­tance of the oc­ca­sion early on. But the set­ting and game’s se­ri­ous­ness seemed to get to the Cy­clones in the fourth quar­ter when their 34-12 lead grad­u­ally dis­ap­peared. Then Ch­ester fum­bled a punt snap with less than 1:32 to play in its own end and Dil­lon took over at the 24-yard line. The Wild­cats couldn’t hit the end zone and faced fourth down with sec­onds left. Cy­clone pass rush on the right side forced Lester to step up and when he did, Mur­phy mauled him, ef­fec­tively end­ing the game.

“I went crazy, man,” Mur­phy said af­ter­ward as his team­mates jumped on his shoul­ders, or tapped his head. “I ain’t never had a feel­ing like that.”

“Teddy beat him off the edge and he’s been do­ing that re­ally all year,” said Cy­clones de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Tim Boyd. “Just great pur­suit to the ball.”

“Coach told us first quar­ter it was gonna be up and down, and that was a down,” se­nior Dor­rien Ba­gley said about the fum­bled punt late. “We had to get back up.”

CRIT­I­CAL

De­fen­sive turnovers won the game for Ch­ester. The Cy­clones in­ter­cepted three passes and re­cov­ered a fum­ble on the open­ing kick­off of the sec­ond half, all of which helped to keep Dil­lon at bay. Good things hap­pened when Ch­ester’s de­fense at­tacked Dil­lon’s QB, Lester. All three in­ter­cep­tions came on plays where Lester was hit as, or af­ter, he threw the ball.

“We knew that (Lester) was re­ally tal­ented, re­ally quick. We knew we had to get hats to him and that was kind of our goal tonight,” Boyd said.

STAR CON­TRIB­U­TORS

Mur­phy made the play of the game, but it wasn’t the only time Dil­lon felt the ju­nior’s pres­ence in its back­field. He fin­ished with eight tack­les and three sacks. Javonti Jack­son was just as good, but in the sec­ond level. He had a team-high nine tack­les and in­ter­cepted two passes.

“Told the team, ‘they throw it my way it’s gonna be a pick,’” said Jack­son. “I thank God for the op­por­tu­nity he gave us to be out here play­ing at Wil­liams-Brice. God showed me a way for an in­ter­cep-

TRACY KIM­BALL tkim­[email protected]­al­don­line.com

The Ch­ester High Cy­clones cel­e­brate af­ter win­ning the S.C. class 3A state cham­pi­onships Fri­day in Columbia and hav­ing a per­fect 15-0 sea­son.

TRACY KIM­BALL tkim­[email protected]­al­don­line.com

Ch­ester’s Pha’Leak Brown rum­bles past Dil­lon’s Jer­dar­ius McDaniel.

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