Thursday, August 29, 2019

Week One High School Football Review: Burke County, Thomson, Aquinas, Wagener-Salley all roll; Saluda and Screven County win in walk off style and more

Samuel Lee (74) and Vincent Webb (69) led Burke County's dominant offensive line Saturday.

A weather shortened schedule didn't fail to provide notable performances and dramatic finishes 


A week one high school football schedule that was stunted by Friday's lightning storms nonetheless produced no shortage of thrilling action and notable results. Whether it be a dominant outing by one of the area's traditional powerhouse programs, a dramatic victory with no time remaining on the clock or a positive sign from a rapidly improving team, the weather did not stop the fun in week one.

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#3 Wagener-Salley (SC Class 1A), #6 Washington County (GA Class 2A) and #5 Aquinas* (GA Class 1A Private) all entered the season ranked in the top 10, and their dominant victories last weekend reinforced the hype. Wagener-Salley thumped Pelion 46-2 at home, Washington County stampeded Baldwin 42-7 on a neutral field and Aquinas handled Laney 33-6 while playing the final three quarters on its home field after Friday's start at Laney was abruptly halted due to lightning.

*Aquinas was left out of GPB's top 10 ranking of class 1A, which includes public and private schools combined, but the Fighting Irish held the #5 spot in Recruit Georgia's private poll.

Vernon Denmark celebrates after Burke County's triumph over Benedictine.

Voters quickly realized their mistake in leaving Burke County outside of the class 4A preseason rankings after the Bears manhandled #7 (class 3A) Benedictine Saturday. After the 55-42 victory, Burke County entered the week 2 GPB poll at #10, and it might only be a matter of time before its region rival Thomson joins them on the list, if Monday night's 26-0 Bulldog win over North Augusta was indicative of what's ahead for the Bulldogs.

Thomson defended its home field in Monday's rescheduled game against North Augusta.

Much more suspenseful were wins by Saluda and Screven County. Saluda topped its rival Strom Thurmond in what might prove to be the most unlikely finish of the season when the Tigers scored a touchdown and a 2 point conversion after the final buzzer, capping off a 73 yard drive in the final 39 seconds to earn a 22-21 win on the road. As exciting as that sounds, the touchdown catch by Saluda's athletic wonder Dallan Wright has to be the way too early favorite for play-of-the-year, catch-of-the-year or whatever other "of-the-year award" we decide to give by the time the season matures.

Even if the degree of difficulty for Screven County's overtime game winning field goal didn't match that of Wright's catch (both the catch and the kick you can see below), the joy it stoked in Gamecock fans had to be every bit as sweet as that experienced by the Tiger faithful.

The first outing for Cross Creek under new head coach Monte Dilworth was overwhelmingly positive, if the 49-6 decision over Josey at home is any indication. Evans continued along its steady path of improvement by topping Effingham County 18-15 on the road. And even though their anticipated matchup was cut short 4 minutes before halftime, both Richmond and Hephzibah showed the high expectations for both teams after strong showings last season are very likely warranted during the interrupted first installment of the AugBball Football Game of the Week Powered by SUVtv.



Week 1 Game Breakdowns


Burke County 55, Benedictine 42 - Saturday August 24



From the venue (Georgia Southern’s Paulson Stadium), to the opponent (class 3A power Benedictine), to the occasion (the Erk Russell Classic), the kickoff to Burke County’s 2019 season resembled that of 2018 in every way except the most important: the final score. After dropping last season’s matchup 23-22, the Bears got even in a big way, tallying 484 rushing yards and 6 rushing touchdowns behind a rotating 10 man corps of offensive linemen who took turns providing running holes for Leon McGee (206 yds, 2 TDs); Juanya Dove (149 yds, 2 TDs); Daveion Henry (1 TD) and Michael Johnson (1 TD).

Leon McGee (36) and Juanya Dove (6) posted eye popping stats in Burke County's win Saturday.

“Our offensive line is pretty experienced. I thought we were able to get in a rhythm running the ball. Those guys dominated,” Burke County head coach Eric Parker said after the game. “We were able to chew up a lot of yards and eventually start popping some of those smaller gains for bigger gains.”



Parker was also complimentary of Dove’s overall play at the quarterback position. In addition to his 149 rushing yards, his 166 passing yards on only 11 attempts made for an explosive beginning to the senior’s second season as the team’s primary signal caller.

Vernon Denmark takes to the sky for a touchdown grab against Benedictine.
Photo credit: Larry Smith

Dove made his throws count. First he found Michael Johnson on the team’s second drive for a 40 yard completion that put the ball at Benedictine’s 1 yard line to set up a touchdown run and a 2 point conversion run by Dove that gave the Bears a 14-7 lead in the first quarter. Then he connected with Vernon Denmark for a 40 yard touchdown strike to put his team ahead 21-7 in the second quarter. Finally he put the game out of reach by connecting with Marquise Burnett for a 61 yard score on 3rd and 17 that gave Burke County a 49-28 lead with 5 minutes remaining in the game.

"Juanya just has the mentality for our offense. He's a tough kid. He's not scared of anything," Coach Parker remarked. "He's cool under pressure. Not a lot rattles him. He'll definitely be called upon all year to provide leadership and to make plays for us."

This Friday Burke County will aim to complete the second phase of its early season revenge tour when it visits Ware County, which in 2018 topped the Bears by a point on the final play of the game, just like Benedictine did last season.

Thomson 26, North Augusta 0 - Monday, August 26




Thomson also avenged a season opening loss from a season ago in dominant fashion when the Bulldogs cut off every avenue of attack on their way to a shutout at home.

Dylan Hobbs (4), Kay'juan Cummings Cummings and company allowed no rushing lanes Monday.


Thomson's defensive front, which was fortified by by Damon Arnette, Kay'juan Cummings, Keshon Germany, Zavion Cade, Cosmos Kendrick and Dylan Hobbs, provided a brick wall (see above picture) at the line of scrimmage that held North Augusta's rushers to fewer than 100 total yards. And its secondary made play after play on the ball, and seemed to make every open field tackle during the rout.

Jamyes Evans intercepted a Bradley Godwin pass over the middle in the second quarter after Kortez Jones bobbled the ball with Thomson defenders closing in on him. Evans also broke up what would have been a long completion early in the game to help establish the tone. Also during the first half, Rodney Lazenby and Ethan Hagans each deflected passes in the end zone to prevent North Augusta from getting on the board after the Yellow Jackets gained possession in Thomson's red zone on an interception in the backfield by heralded defensive end Charles Hammond.


Add to all of that the bone crushing hitting by safety Jamon Fanning and the sure tackling of Fanning and Hobbs and you get the picture of a defense that looked on opening night like it was already approaching mid season form. Evans described to me after the game how he and his peers in Thomson's secondary were able to shut down North Augusta's aerial attack:

"We were just real disciplined to our coaching. Week in and week out, all throughout the summer we were preparing," Evans explained. "We played them last year so we knew a lot of the things they would do. All we had to do was be disciplined, and we knew that they (coaches) would never steer us wrong.

Thomson head coach Michael Youngblood addresses his team after Monday's win.

Thomson's offensive attack was ignited by the sophomore tandem of Cerauhjalaun "Snoop" Williams and Taymarion Martin, who goes by Tay. Martin, who plays quarterback, running back, receiver and return kicks, hit Williams for a short completion on consecutive plays early in the first half. Both times Williams ran for significant yardage after the catch, and he scored the game's first touchdown on the second play. Later Williams added a rushing touchdown, Martin scored using a nice move after catching a pass from the team's other quarterback, Ashton Perry, and the Bulldogs got their final touchdown from Kay'juan Cummings, a bruising runner who at 220 pounds provides a nice change of pace from the speedy duo of Williams and Martin.

Cerauhjalaun Williams has his eyes on the end zone on one of his two touchdown runs Monday.


According to the Augusta Chronicle's Will Cheney, Martin accounted for 232 total yards. Martin was in on 2 of Thomson's scores, and he told me after the game there was nothing complicated about his receiving touchdown:

"It wasn't too much of a drawn up play," Martin freestyled. "Coach just told me to run and just go get the ball. And I went and got it, and made a play out of it."

Tay didn't disagree with me when I suggested maybe "playmaker" should be the position I assign him, replying that his job is to make plays "anywhere on the field."

Aquinas 33, Laney 6 - Saturday, August 24




Three second half turnovers by Laney turned into 20 Aquinas points, and transformed what was a 6-0 Fighting Irish lead at halftime into a 33-6 win for the home team. First Jaden Blount, a highly touted defensive end who has attracted attention from everybody from division I college coaches to local and statewide media outlets, forced a fumble with 7 minutes left in the third quarter that gave Aquinas a short field and led to AJ Williams's second short rushing touchdown of the day.

Jaden Blount fires out of his stance in Saturday's win.

Only 4 minutes later Williams, who doubles as a linebacker and is another division I prospect, intercepted Damien Thomas's pass and ran it 10 yards for his third score of the game. Finally, after Laney scored its only touchdown of the game, Ward Tyre posted the second pick 6 of the day for Aquinas after intercepting a pass near mid field with 5 minutes remaining.

Jaden Blount (1) and AJ Williams (25) have Laney surrounded before Williams's Pick 6.

Following the theme of the first week, and really for all consistently successful football teams, Aquinas was the decisive winner in the trenches. The Fighting Irish rushed for 155 yards while Laney was only able to muster 35. And as evidenced by its scoring 13 points with two interceptions, the team's passing defense is off to a solid start, which is a good sign for when the region schedule heats up and teams like Greene County and Washington-Wilkes come to Augusta with their high flying offenses.

Aidan Perry (70) and Jordan Wall (54) consistently cleared a running path for Irish rushers.

Wagener-Salley 46, Pelion 2 - Friday, August 24


Kaleb Shaw - Wagener-Salley

Wagener-Salley, which came into the season ranked by The State #3 in South Carolina's class 1A, gained a head of steam leading into this Friday's "AugBball Game of the Week Powered by SUVtv" against Fox Creek. Defensive end Westin Williams posted a stat line for tailor made for Player of the Week honors by recording 15 tackles, 8 for a loss, and forcing 3 fumbles in the rout.


Saluda 22, Strom Thurmond 21 - Saturday, August 24


Yet another team to avenge a season opening loss of last year was Saluda, but the way the Tigers got the job done was much more spectacular than it was familiar. Saluda gained possession with 39.1 seconds remaining in the game at its own 27 yard line. And by the time the clock read 1.2 the Tigers had only reached Strom Thurmond's 30. But the moment that mattered most in this game happened after the clock reached zero when Dallan Wright, who may be the most accomplished overall athlete in our wide area, streaked down the left sideline and tracked down a pass by Noah Bell right before his momentum carried him out of bounds and made a Willie Mays like grab to set up a two point conversion attempt that Jervon Whitt made good on to give the Tigers the most unlikely kind of rivalry win.

Because the catch by Wright, a speedy playmaker who is also dubbed the #12 ranked basketball player in South Carolina by the recruiting website Hoopseen, might be the most fantastic play we see this season, I think it's worth all three views I've tracked down so far.

This was the first raw clip I saw:


Of course, Kevin Faigle's team at WRDW provided the highest definition view I've seen:


And Cam Ruiz gets the award for the most in depth look at Saluda's amazing comeback victory because he showed all the "madness" in during Saturday morning's fourth quarter:



Screven County 44, Bluffton 41 (OT) - Friday, August 23

Gary Hawkins rushed for 218 yards and 5 TDs in Screven County's overtime win Friday.


Screven County's overtime win after a walk off field goal by freshman Jakob Godbee seemed to be one of the only games from week one that started and ended on Friday! Because the games from the first week basically ended in time for those from the second week to begin, I have not yet had the chance to watch this game, which we have the benefit of seeing on demand from the Gamecock TV YouTube channel. But when I do watch it I expect to see from Screven County more of what was so effective for Burke County and so many other victors, a dominant offensive line and rushing attack because senior Gary Hawkins (5-9, 230) gained 218 yards and ran for 6 touchdowns for the Gamecocks.



More results:


Evans 18, Effingham County 15 - Friday, August 23


The Knights, with a roster heavy on play making sophomores and juniors, also picked up a season opening win against an opponent they failed to get past a season ago. Sophomore Lleyton Lackey rushed for 107 yards, he threw a 27 yard touchdown pass and he also made a 23 yard reception for the Knights. Jayden Burkhalter tallied 11 tackles, including 5 for a loss.

Washington County 42, Baldwin 7 - Saturday, August 24


Swainsboro 37, Jefferson County 14 - Monday, August 26


Cross Creek 49, Josey 6 - Monday, August 26



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