On paper, a 2A team should not be able to compete with the reigning 4A Lower State Champions.
But football games aren’t played on paper and Abbeville isn’t your average 2A school. The reigning state champions entered Friday’s neutral-site contest against Hartsville seeking to avoid their first loss since October 2, 2015.
That unbeaten streak, of course, includes a 32-21 victory over the Red Foxes last season. Hartsville didn’t underestimate the Panthers, they were simply overmatched.
Flash forward to Friday, when Hartsville traveled to Newberry College with a 4-1 record, courtesy of a 35-21 loss at 5A Conway in early September. Abbeville, obviously, entered unbeaten, with several blowout wins to its credit.
This year, however, the Red Foxes would have their revenge.
All-State running back Tiyon Evans got the scoring started for the Red Foxes with a three-yard plunge that followed his big 37-yard reception.
Abbeville responded immediately though, as Bryce Jackson hit Ja’Bryan Sanders on a 64-yard touchdown pass.
Jackson, normally a wide receiver, played in place of Abbeville’s injured signal-caller, and had a pretty successful night against a stingy Red Fox defense.
After a few strong defensive stands, Hartsville’s second dynamic back, Bishop Collins, plowed in from 11 yards out to put the Red Foxes back on top, 13-7, just before the half.
Abbeville wasted no time scoring out of the break, as Jackson scored on a 38-yard quarterback keeper two plays after the opening kickoff was run back to the 40-yard line.
The momentum seemed to be in Abbeville’s favor. That is, until Evans fielded the kickoff.
Evans caught the kick at the 1-yard line, on the rightmost part of the field before bringing it downhill. He made two defenders miss at the 20, then cut it across field, two jukes and a stiff arm later, he was streaking down the left sideline. He cut it back at the Panther 40, making the kicker and two others miss, before winning a footrace to the right corner of the end zone in what was the play of the night.
“Anytime [Evans] gets his hands on the ball, you’ve got a shot,” Hartsville head coach Jeff Calabrese said after the game. “He’s a great player and we’re certainly fortunate that he’s on our team. Certainly a big play and I think we did a great job blocking too.”
It was what the Hartsville defense needed to step up. Abbeville’s next three possessions ended in a pick, turnover on downs and another pick.
Lacy Josey would later scored from 15 yards out to put the Red Foxes up 28-14 in the fourth quarter. Abbeville struck back with an 85-yard, run-only drive that was capped by a 3-yard jet sweep score, putting the Panthers within striking distance.
However, when Hartsville got the ball back at the five minute mark, Abbeville would be unable to regain possession. Hartsville iced the game by drawing Abbeville offside on a fourth and three.
The loss really shouldn’t hurt the Panthers in the long run. They’ll start region play this week not only as a heavy favorite to win Region II, but also the 2A state championship.
For Hartsville, it’s a game to build on. The Red Foxes also begin region play as the favorites, as they seek a second straight Lower State title. If they play like they did Friday, there’s a good chance that can happen.