COLUMBIA — Augusta Christian Schools head football coach Keith Walton got emotional Saturday night.
He was choked up while giving his post-game speech to his team after they won his first South Carolina Independent School Class AAA championship, and the team’s first since 2005.
The Lions reclaimed the title with a 21-14 win over Hammond, the six-time defending champion, finishing the season a perfect 13-0. The win was the second of the year for Augusta Christian over Hammond, whose only losses came to the Lions as the Skyhawks finished 12-2.
“It’s an indescribable feeling,” said Walton, “I’m so thankful for the senior class and the selflessness of the entire team.”
The Lions’ defense made all the difference, bending but not breaking.
The defense recovered five fumbles, three inside their own 10-yard line, and got the ball on downs in the fourth quarter after stopping the Skyhawks at the four-yard line.
“The offense takes a lot of the headlines. This game’s on the defense,” said Walton. “They played unbelievable. They all did a great job.”
The offense capitalized on the Skyhawk miscues, turning them into 14 points.
Hammond’s’ third fumble of the first half, the third of four by running back Quayshon Myers, came at the Skyhawks’ 28-yard line. The Lions went the distance in four plays to take a 7-0 lead with 27 seconds left in the first half. Quarterback Tyler Roberson completed three passes, the last to Thomas Banks in the middle of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown.
The momentum would swing a few times in the second half.
The Lions came out of the locker room and went 76 yards in 13 plays, taking more than five minutes off the clock before Roberson went in from three yards out as the Lions built the lead to 14-0.
He completed a pass to fullback Sean Sweeting in the flat that he turned into a 29-yard gain on third and 13 that helped keep the drive alive.
Sweeting led the Lions, catching five passes for 73 yards and was ecstatic afterward.
“We’ve been working on this for four years,” said Sweeting. “It’s a dream come true. I wouldn’t want to have done it with any other group of guys.”
The Skyhawks cut the lead to 14-7 on a Myers six-yard touchdown run following an interception of Roberson.
The Skyhawks bottled up Roberson’s running, allowing him 31 yards and a touchdown, but he was solid passing the ball, completing 13-of-19 for 141 yards.
Early in the fourth quarter the Skyhawks offense put together an 11-play drive, but the Lions pressured quarterback Jake Nidiffer into an incompletion on fourth-and-two from the Lions’ four. Banks would turn in the play of the game two plays later.
Banks gave the Lions a 21-7 advantage as he juked inside and went outside and down the right sideline for a 98-yard touchdown with 6:49 to play. He finished with 123 yards on 15 carries and caught five passes for 43 yards.
“I saw all 11 in the box and set them up,” said Banks. “I faked inside and went outside. This is the greatest feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” said Banks of the win.
The Skyhawks scored with 3:57 to play to cut the lead to 21-14, then recovered the ensuing kickoff at the Lions’ 32.
With 2:21 to play they got to the Lions’ seven before losing their fifth fumble of the game.
On the ensuing drive, facing third-and-10, Roberson hit Nick Fortenberry for an 11-yard gain and first down, enabling the Lions to run out the clock.
“We knew what we could do,” said senior Matt Herzwurm. “We knew we could only beat ourselves.”