COLUMBIA — During the past 16 consecutive games, the Newberry High School football team has scored on their first offensive possession in the first and/or second half, including all 12 games this season.
Friday night at Bolden Stadium in Columbia was no exception as the Bulldogs scored on their eighth play of the evening, as they advance to the third round of the AA Division One playoffs after their 28-9 victory over Columbia High.
The Bulldogs, who have three blemishes this season, have now won at least nine games in fifteen seasons since 1951.
Improving to 5-2 when winning the coin toss, Newberry started at their 32 yard line in front of a crowd that seemed to have about a five-to-one Bulldog advantage throughout the course of the night.
Tyon Williams, who had only seen very limited action since coming out of the Ninety Six game due to ankle injuries, scored what he thought was his 39th career touchdown from 24 yards out but a block-in-the-back penalty negated the run, putting Newberry back to the 19.
Instead, Omar Sims scored on the next play as Logan Ransdell’s first of four successful PATs on the night put Newberry up for the final 44:05 of the game with their 7-0 lead.
After being forced to punt, the Capitals capitalized on a Jaylen Caldwell fumble six plays letter which led to their first points of the night.
Having 53 yards ahead of them, Columbia needed only five plays to cover the Richland county real estate with Lorenzo Gilmore scoring from 36 yards out.
The PAT snap was mishandled which led to an incomplete two-point pass attempt for the 7-6 score with 39.9 seconds left in the first quarter.
Like last week’s playoff game against Indian Land, Jalin Alexander came within a player or two from going the distance on a kickoff return as he put Newberry at the Columbia 36, going 51 yards in the process.
Newberry stayed on the ground all four plays of this touchdown drive with quarterback Khalil Sheppard sweeping across to his left side from 15 yards out for the 14-6 score with 10:22 until the break.
Columbia would take 8:20 off the clock, going from their 28 to the Newberry 9 during this time, before they sent out Julio Alatorre for the successful 25-yard field goal to end Columbia’s scoring.
Newberry fumbled over to Columbia with 8.2 seconds left in the half but on literally a first-and-53, Eric Gallman made a ten-yard sack on the quarterback.
Newberry had 164 yards of first half offense while Columbia had 122.
As the weather seemed to take a significant dip in temperature during the half, the Bulldogs came out red hot in the second half, including the defense as they held Columbia to 54 yards of offense and one first down for the duration of the evening.
“We challenged the defense (at the half) and were able to move the ball and keep it out of their hands,” said Newberry head coach Phil Strickland. “The kids played hard in the second half.”
Columbia became the eighth team this season, including the third straight, to not score on either one of their first offensive possessions of the half.
While fielding their punt though, the ball bounced off Tovaris Cureton, as Newberry lost their third fumble of the night to the Capitals.
Columbia would be forced to punt again as the ball just barely broke the goal line for the touchback.
Scoring on their first offensive possession of the second half for the past six games, Newberry failed to do so Friday as Eric Davis had his lone punt of the evening, a 32 yarder.
After their second straight three and out, Columbia punted to Newberry as they would take a comfortable two-possession lead after this scoring drive.
Williams finally got his 39th career touchdown and his first in four games as he scored from 10 yards out with 8:26 left in the game, ending a 68-yard, nine play drive which all came on the ground.
With Columbia being forced to go to the air now, Dominique Quiller made his team-leading third interception of the year two plays later.
Staying on the ground every play once again, Eric Gallman ended the 31 yard six-play drive with a five-yard run for the touchdown to end the scoring with 4:02 left in the contest.
“It’s hard not to give him the ball when you get in a short-yardage situation,” noted Strickland of Gallman. “He’s hard to stop.”
Newberry had a 19-7 advantage in first downs as well as on time-of-possession, 26:43.8 to 21:16.2.
Williams had 139 yards rushing on 20 carries, 54 more yards than the entire rushing department of the Capitals.
Sims rushed nine times for 74 yards while Sheppard got 32 yards on five carries.
Gallman accumulated 27 yards on four carries while Tysheen Nance got 15 yards on two carries.
Cohanskie Goodson and Jaylen Caldwell ended the Newberry rushing with six and five yards respectively.
Alexander and Jaylen Reeder both caught 14 yards of passes while Caldwell had one four-yard reception.
Newberry will travel to Central High School in Pageland this Friday for a berth to the upper-state championship the day after Thanksgiving.
“We knew after the first round that we were going to be the road warriors,” said Strickland of potentially playing four straight away playoff games. “Our kids don’t mind playing on the road though.”
The Eagles are the four-time defending upper-state champions, either in AA or AA Division One.
This will be Newberry’s first third round playoff appearance since 2006.
Strickland went 2-1 against Central while he was at Batesburg-Leesville with both of his wins coming in the third round of the playoffs while his Panthers lost the 1994 upper-state championship to them.
“They (Central) have an excellent football team and program,” said Strickland. “I hope our folks come out and support us.”
While Newberry is currently on a five-game winning streak, the Eagles have won their last eight games as they sport a 9-2 record.
With the game this past Friday, 24 consecutive freshman Newberry High classes since 1989 have seen their football team play at least one second-round playoff game during their four years as students.