Tigers shut out by Pace Academy
After standing strong through the regular season, Darlington’s football team met a nearly immovable force Friday night that would not break.
The Tigers, trying to add to their 10-0 record, faced a sizeable opponent in Pace Academy in the first round of the Class AA state playoffs and were held scoreless in a 31-0 loss.
“We knew coming in after seeing them on film we were going to have to play flawless football,” Darlington head coach Tommy Atha said. “We made some mistakes, but they had to do with a lot of those mistakes. They’re a big, physical team.”
Pace quarterback Gunnor Faulk threw for 96 yards and three touchdowns, while running backs Realus George and Deon Jackson utilized the Knights’ big offensive line to pick up steady yardage.
Pace (9-2) racked up 285 yards of offense, while Darlington had just 147. Tiger quarterback Hunter Manning accounted for most of that after he went 7 of 15 for 70 yards passing and ran for another 40 yards.
With a sizeable front line, Pace was able to keep a number of players on the perimeter and beef up their coverage in passing situations.
“They don’t have to keep as many people in the box, which makes it difficult for you to throw the football,” Atha said. “Just their overall size was the biggest difference.”
Manning leads a senior group who finished
their football career at Darlington on Friday.
“You know, they’ve won a lot of football games, but they’ve also been great role models for our younger kids and they’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do,” Atha said of the group.
“I know tonight it hurts. It hurts me. I know it hurts the seniors especially. I think after a while they’ll be able to look back and realize what a special year it’s been.”
Several skill players are set to return for the Tigers, including running backs Elijah McKoy and Tijai Whatley, who did not play against Pace as he continues to recover from an injury he sustained in a game earlier this season.
Darlington (10-1) got the ball to start the game and started on the 20 after Pace kicker Samuel Sloman sent the ball into the end zone for the first of five times on the night.
McKoy started things off with a 10-yard run and Manning hit Jake Walker for a 13-yard gain to start the drive, and Manning picked up another first down on a 12-yard scramble two plays later.
The Tigers would be stymied just inside Pace territory however and have to punt. It would be the first of six straight drives to end that way for Darlington.
Landon Lawrence’s punt put Pace back on their own 9, but the Knights got their running game going before Faulk threw a short pass to Trey Blount on the left side with the ball on the Darlington 47.
Blount then turned and ran straight to the end zone to put Pace on the board with 6:27 left in the opening quarter. Sloman made his first of four extra points to make it 7-0.
Penalties and Pace’s pass rush kept Darlington from making any headway on offense. But the Tigers kept pressing until the final second.
After holding the Knights to a 40-yard Sloman field goal with 40.4 seconds left in the third quarter to make it 31-0, Darlington came out and put together one final drive.
Manning found success on the ground and in the air, and Johnny Treco had a 15-yard gain to move the chains during the 14-play series. But with the ball on the 20, an incomplete pass on fourth-and-6 gave Pace the ball back with about three minutes left.
“We played hard the whole time,” Atha said. “We very easily could have rolled over several times, but there’s a lot of fight in our kids and I’m extremely proud of them.”
Pace will play Screven County next week in the second round of the playoffs after the Gamecocks beat Bryan County on Friday, 35-0.
Pace Academy’s Trey Blount (right) pushes his way past Darlington’s Skyler Sledge during the first-round playoff game Friday, Nov. 13, 2015, at Darlington.