By MONTE DUTTON, Index Journal
NEWBERRY — After congratulating his team on a 32-21 win over previously unbeaten Hartsville, Abbeville coach Jamie Nickles looked up to the heavens and said simply, “I love this place.”
Setzler Field, normally home of the Newberry College Wolves, was the neutral site of Friday night’s matchup of the Class 2A Panthers and the 4A Red Foxes (5-1). Hartsville was officially the home team, though it came from a little more than twice as far away. The Red Foxes earned that distinction by bringing a few more fans.
Hartsville, bigger, if not necessarily stronger, dominated at the outset. Quarterback A.J. Joyner found Steve Joyner on a 45-yard touchdown pass on the game’s third play. Abbeville (6-0-1) returned the favor on T.J. Rogers’ 52-yard gallop early in the second quarter.
Then the Red Foxes scored twice more to lead, 21-7, with 2:30 left in the first half.
From that point on, Abbeville took control of the line of scrimmage. Jamie Gray made it a game at halftime with a 55-yard touchdown pass to J.R. Rapley.
“I’ve got to give our kids and coaches a lot of credit,” Nickles said. “We beat a good football team. I mean, a really good football team. They showed a lot of guts.”
With the Panthers leading 25-21, the defense twice stopped Hartsville on fourth down in the final quarter.
“That was where the game was decided,” Nickles said.
Finally, Cortney Jackson broke through the Hartsville defense and sprinted 50 yards for the game-cinching touchdown with only 1:16 left to play.
The Red Foxes gained 82 more yards on the ground (391-309) and 33 more through the air (134-101) but did not score in the second half.
The Panthers had four players who ran for 24 yards or more, led by Jackson with 94. Gray hit four of his eight pass attempts. Three went for touchdowns.
“Even though we run the ball more than we pass it, it isn’t the same person running play after play,” Nickles said. “You see diversity there.”
Three Hartsville backs ran for 77 or more yards, led by sophomore Tiyon Evans with 91 in 11 carries.
Abbeville kept the Red Foxes at bay. Sometimes the Hartsville backs broke away, but not all the way into the end zone.
“We bent but we never broke in the second half,” Nickles said. “The first half, we broke in half. We made some adjustments at halftime, but give our kids a lot of credit. It’s hard to tackle their running backs. They’re big, strong and physical.”
H ? Steve Joyner 45 pass from A.J. Joyner (Miller Braddock kick) 10:57
A ? T.J. Rogers 52 run (Dylan Buford kick) 11:09
H ? Collins Bishop 4 run (Braddock kick) 6:18
H ? Tiyon Evans 62 run (Braddock kick) 2:30
A ? J.R. Rapley 55 pass from Jamie Gray (kick blocked) 1:23
A ? Rogers 12 pass from Gray (run failed) 6:11
A ? Rapley 17 pass from Gray (pass failed) 11:29
A ? Cortney Jackson 50 run (Buford kick) 1:16
Rushing — Abbeville: Cortney Jackson 12-94, Rogers 13-47; Hartsville: Evans 11-91, James Clair 10-88, Bishop 14-77.
Passing — Abbeville: Gray 4-8-0-101; Hartsville: A.J. Joyner 9-14-0-134.
Receiving — Abbeville: Rapley 2-72; Hartsville: S. Joyner 4-86, Dashawn Davis 3-24.