By Justin Jarrett
The big names and the big-time college offers were all on one side of the 2nd annual Blitz Border Bowl, leading most folks to believe the Coastal Empire stars would once again handle their Lowcountry counterparts with ease.
The boys from the Palmetto State took that personally. And a crew of players who are scratching and clawing to get college coaches — any college coaches — to check them out withstood an early barrage, then owned the fourth quarter en route to a stunning 35-34 win Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The Coastal Empire stars showed early why most everyone expected them to have the upper hand. New Hampstead’s Deyandre Ruffin tossed a 78-yard strike to West Virginia commit Winston Wright (Memorial Day) on a trick play on the team’s first offensive series, and the Georgia squad marched down the field again on its second series, culminating in Wright’s 10-yard touchdown reception from Windsor Forest’s Eric Phoenix.
The Lowcountry’s strength figured to be its ground game, with Wade Hampton’s Pernell Maxwell running behind a big, strong offensive line, but South Carolina had to go to the air to find a weakness in the Coastal Empire’s defense. Battery Creek’s Jordan Gwyn connected with Colleton County’s Shykem Chisolm for a 33-yard pass to loosen up the defense, then hit Thomas Heyward’s Trey Pusha over the middle for a 21-yard touchdown to give the Lowcountry life.
The offensive success seemed to give the Lowcountry defense a newfound confidence, and Wade Hampton defensive lineman Sheldrick Gibbs’ interception set up Pusha’s second TD grab — a beautiful, toe-tapping 10-yard fade from Whale Branch’s C.J. Brown to tie it at 14 before halftime.
It seemed as though the Lowcountry’s valiant effort might fall short when the Coastal Empire came out of the locker room swinging and regained the lead on Memorial Day star Delvecchio Powell’s 60-yard catch-and-run from Phoenix, followed by his high school teammate Julian Roberts scooping up a fumble and racing 54 yards to make it 27-14.
Gwyn pulled his team off the canvas again, though, and threw a strike downfield for game MVP Pusha, who ran under it and ran away for a 66 yard score.
Phoenix and Wright torched the secondary again for a 74-yard touchdown to put the Lowcountry back in a 13-point hole going to the fourth quarter, but the South Carolina boys weren’t done yet.
Maxwell capped a methodical drive with a rumbling 19-yard touchdown run, and the Lowcountry defense delivered with two straight stops — including Whale Branch safety Kyshon Hipp’s second interception of the game — to give the offense one last chance. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty kept the drive going, and Maxwell’s 21-yard run set up Bluffton’s John Swinton for a 7-yard touchdown, setting off a wild celebration in the end zone and on the Lowcountry sideline. Jonathan Orr’s extra point gave the Lowcountry the lead, but the defense had to make one last stand.
The Coastal Empire picked up a couple of big chunks to set up Richmond Hill’s Anthony Salazar for a 51-yard field goal try, but it came up well short, landing in Hipp’s waiting arms to give the Lowcountry the unlikely victory and even the series at 1.
Pusha earned game MVP honors after jump-starting the Lowcountry offense with three receptions for 97 yards and three touchdowns. Gwyn was 5-of-11 for 166 yards and two touchdowns, and Maxwell had 10 carries for 75 yards and was the lead blocker on Swinton’s game-winning score.