Augusta Christian Schools' second state football title in as many years fell just out of grasp Friday when the Lions lost 28-17 to Hammond in the South Carolina Independent Schools Association Class AAA championship game.
The game, played on the Orangeburg campus of South Carolina State University, quickly turned sour for the Lions. After the first half, Hammond held a 14-3 lead.
"We lost focus at the beginning and kind of got down on ourselves," Lions senior tailback Kyle Meeks said. "After the half we came back out and did what we do best. We took it right at them. It was a totally different second half."
Augusta Christian owned the third quarter thanks to a pair of interceptions.
Senior Josh Whitaker grabbed the first pick off a tipped pass with nine minutes left in the third quarter to give the Lions the ball on Hammond's 11 yard line. Meeks scored three plays later on a 3-yard touchdown run to cut the Hammond lead to five points.
On the Skyhawks' next possession, Augusta Christian senior Taylor Hensley grabbed the other interception and gave the Lions the ball on their own 40 yard line.
Nine plays and 60 yards later, Meeks made a 2-yard touchdown run to claim a 17-14 lead.
"The interceptions were two bad decisions and a tipped ball," Hammond quarterback Punky DaSilva said. "We knew we were in a ball game, but thankfully we've been there before."
DaSilva and the Skyhawks came storming back in the fourth quarter with a pair of touchdowns on two Augusta Christian fumbles.
The Lions' season came to an end when a last-second desperation bomb from Augusta Christian quarterback Tyler Bourdo came down into the hands of a Hammond defender.
Although Augusta Christian suffered an 11-point loss, Lions coach Bruce Lane said there's no reason his boys should hang their heads.
"I'm tremendously proud of the kids and the way they came out of the locker room at halftime and defensively made some plays," he said. "Our kids played hard."
The Lions now boast a record of 44-15 in the past five years. With two consecutive trips to the SCISA Class AAA state title game and last year's state trophy, the Lions football program has fully established itself as one of the top private school programs in the area.
Lane said he wasn't concerned about that idea in the first place.
"That is the standard that has been set. That's the expectation around here, and I think it will be that way from here on out," he said.
"We don't have anything to prove to anybody. We just have to honor God, and that's one of the main reasons we've been successful."
Final winners and qualifiers in the Week 12 Pigskin Picks contest will be published in the Sunday, Nov. 26 edition of The News-Times.
The grand prize drawing will be held at the Pigskin Picks Party at 7 p.m. Nov. 29 at Rhinehart's in Evans.
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