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September 16, 2011
Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.
DUNCAN, S.C. - An opportunistic yet explosive offense supported by an aggressive but fundamentally sound defense helped Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes football carry the flag for the Palmetto State for more than a decade.
Friday night, that same formula helped shift the balance of power.
The Gaffney (S.C) High Indians, No. 5 in the RivalsHigh 100 coming into the game, proved they belonged in the national championship discussion by knocking off Byrnes, 35-13.
"Our defense was outstanding tonight," Gaffney head coach Dan Jones said. "We put ourselves in a couple of tough spots there, but the kids don't mind it. Those boys like having it on their backs."
The pressure on the Indians started early as Byrnes took the opening kickoff and drove for five first downs to get inside the Gaffney 5-yard line. But on fourth-and-goal from the 2, the Indians defense turned away Shakeem Wharton and took possession of the ball.
"That goal line stand was super," Jones said. "It is too bad we gave up the momentum so quickly though."
Indeed. On a third-down pass play, Quinshad Davis appeared to make the reception for first-down yardage, but when he has tackled, he fumbled and Byrnes recovered on the Gaffney 11.
Again the defense came up big and forced a field goal.
Byrnes had the early lead, but Gaffney had something else - confidence.
"It was a momentum win, I think," Jones said. "We had them inside our 20 twice and they only came up with three points."
It was the story of the game.
On the night, Byrnes converted on just two-of-five trips inside the Gaffney red zone, both times kicking field goals. In addition to turning the ball over on downs, the Rebels twice turned the ball over on interceptions.
And after recording those five first downs on the opening drive, Byrnes only mustered seven the rest of the night.
"We like to hit man," Shonquille "Snoop" Byers, a Gaffney defensive back, said. "We go sideline to sideline; we are strong on the line, and have a good group of linebackers, too.
"And we don't like when people score on us."
Of the 13 points the Rebels did score, 10 came directly off of turnovers: a field goal to open the scoring and a touchdown that Byrnes got just before the half as Gaffney attempted a screen out of its own end zone.
"We certainly didn't want to turn the ball over three times," Jones said. "We never want to give up points on offense, but I will say that we feel like we can gamble a little bit more knowing what our defense can do."
The offense took its share of shots with deep passes from quarterback Joey Copeland to Quinshad Davis and Shaquille Davidson.
Davis hauled in a pair of touchdown passes. One a 35-yard completion on second down to give Gaffney a 7-3 lead and a 17-yard pass on a third down play of the next possession to extend the lead to 14-3.
"(Quinshad) is such a big weapon for us," Copeland said. "Sometimes he really bails me out because I know I can throw it up there and he will get it."
Davidson showed his ability on special teams as he took the second half kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, extending the Gaffney lead to 21-10.
"Coach pulled me aside right after halftime and told me he needed me to make a play," Davidson said. "I told him I had his back."
Davidson, just a sophomore, is a star in the making according to Coach Jones.
"We was a little wide-eyed out there tonight," Jones said. "But he has the makings of a very good football player. Now he has some experience on a bigger stage."
He wasn't the only player who was still getting his feet wet.
Copeland, in his first year as a starting quarterback, admired the defensive performance.
"We struggled to get it going on offense in the first half," he said. "But the defense kept us in it. We made a mistake on the turnovers but they didn't let it hurt us. That gives the offense confidence that we can go and play free because of those guys."
Confidence is one thing - but results need to be another.
That is a small area of concern for Jones.
"I think we got a little pushed around up front," he said. "We like to hit our screens and then stretch the field vertically but we need to have help up front and that will need to improve."
With the toughest stretch of its schedule now behind it, Gaffney can work to get better before the playoffs.
"We got through it," Jones said of the team's stretch of Greenwood (S.C.) High, Roebuck (S.C.) Dorman, and Byrnes. "But our goals are still in front of us; these three wins do not make our season."
If the Indians roll off 11 more wins, it could reach the ultimate goal: a national title.