It didn’t come easy, but the Augusta Christian Lions are headed back to the South Carolina Independent School Class AAA state championship football game.
Against the Orangeburg Prep Indians Friday night, the Lions (12-0) overcame a sluggish first half offensively before taking control in the second half, going on to the 39-26 win.
They will face six-time consecutive SCISA champion Hammond Saturday at Benedict College’s Charlie W. Johnson Stadium at 7:30 p.m. The Lions last played in the SCISA championship game in 2007, losing to Hammond 17-14.
“One of our goals is to play in the last game of the year,” said Lions’ head coach Keith Walton. “Before you can say you can win state, you have to get to state first.”
While they beat the Indians 42-20 in the final game of the regular season, it was closer than the score would indicate. The Indians played the Lions tough once more, holding them to 12 points with 94 yards rushing and three first downs in the first half.
“They started doing some things different we hadn’t seen on film, so it took some time to adjust,” Walton said. “It was a change in the game plan we had to make.”
With 10 rushing attempts in the first half, the Lions eclipsed that on the opening drive of the third quarter. They ran 14 times on their 90-yard, 16-play drive that took just over eight minutes of the clock, capped by quarterback Tyler Roberson’s four-yard scramble for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal.
“We came back in at half and said we’re going to get back to the old grind and run it down their throat and had an eight-minute drive right off the bat,” said fullback Sean Sweeting, who led the Lions with 134 yards on 11 carries.
The touchdown gave the Lions a 19-12 lead and set the tone for the rest of the half. They would go on to finish with 341 total rushing yards. Roberson rushed 16 times for 130 yards and three touchdowns and Thomas Banks added 77 yards on 14 carries and a score.
Banks scored on the Lions’ second possession of the second half as they went up 26-12, but as they had done all night, the Indians answered with a 54-yard scoring pass from quarterback Marion McCurry to Derek Andrews to get within a touchdown.
McCurry connected with Andrews eight times for 162 yards and three touchdowns on the night, including two in a 17-second span at the end of the second quarter that erased a Lions’ 12-0 lead.
Despite McCurry’s numbers, the Lions defense did a good job keeping up the pressure, sacking him eight times, including six in the first half.
Roberson scored on a 14-yard touchdown at the 5:43 mark of the fourth quarter and Sweeting broke free up the middle on a 34-yard touchdown with 1:49 to play, giving the Lions a 39-19 lead and all but sealing the win.
With the offense struggling at the onset, the defense kept the Indians at bay for the majority of the first half.
Scoreless into the second quarter, the game’s momentum shifted quickly, twice.
First, Roberson found wide receiver Nick Fortenberry for a 28-yard touchdown at the 8:36 mark. When the defense held, Roberson picked up a fumbled shotgun snap and weaved his way 50 yards for the team’s second touchdown in just under two minutes.
Just when it appeared the Lions were in command, the Indians came right back.
Helped by 30 yards of penalties, the Indians scored on a 10-play drive as McCurry hit Andrews for a 12-yard score with 2:30 to go before the half. The Indians tied it 17 seconds later following a fumbled kickoff when McCurry found Andrews again on a sideline screen for a 29-yard touchdown.