By Justin Jarrett
After watching his team sleepwalk through a win at Philip Simmons last week, Whale Branch coach Jerry Hatcher was anxious to see which team would show up for Friday’s Region 5-2A opener against Woodland.
Well, the right team showed up, but it didn’t stick around.
The Warriors raced out to a 13-0 lead, but the Wolverines responded with 27 unanswered points en route to a 27-13 victory that shifts the balance of power in a loaded region.
“I’ll be honest, we’re just trying to get in the playoffs now,” said Hatcher, whose team travels to No. 2 Barnwell next week and hosts fourth-ranked Bamberg-Ehrhardt on Oct. 19.
The seventh-ranked Warriors certainly looked like a region contender early on, as the defense forced a three-and-out and CJ Brown hit Keith Bing for a 47-yard touchdown pass on Whale Branch’s first offensive series. After Jaheim Fripp stripped the ball away on the Wolverines’ next possession, Brown ran 8 yards for a touchdown and a 13-0 lead.
But Woodland quarterback Taurean Singletary and the Wolverines’ defense controlled the rest of the night. Singletary spread the ball around to a bevy of receivers and broke two long touchdown runs, including a 68-yard sprint for the go-ahead score with 11:36 left in the second quarter.
The Warriors (4-2, 0-1) hung around and trailed 21-13 late in the third quarter when Brown broke free for another touchdown run that was called back on the 13th of Whale Branch’s 14 penalties. Brown was sacked on the next play, and the Warriors were forced to punt.
After Singletary’s second touchdown run and with Brown on the sideline on crutches with ice on his ankle, Marion Smalls drove the Warriors into the red zone, but the Wolverines stopped them on fourth down and drove down the field to run out the clock.
Woodland kept star running back Irvin Mulligan in check, holding him to 78 yards on 15 carries and keeping him out of the end zone.
With two more region games against top-five teams, the Warriors now find themselves in danger of playing for the No. 4 seed from the region and having to open the playoffs on the road against a region champion — an unenviable fate Hatcher prepared his team for in his postgame speech.
“We’re in trouble now,” Hatcher said before adding, “I say that now, but by morning I’ll be fired up and think we can go beat Barnwell.”