COLUMBIA — For the second year in a row, Fairfield Central’s (13-1) football team fell to the Dillon Wildcats (12-2) Friday night at Benedict College’s Charlie Johnson Stadium in the Class AA state championship game.
Fairfield lost 41-3 and were out gained by nearly 200 yards on offense. The Griffins were unable to capitalize on two turnovers inside Dillon’s 10-yard line. The three-point effort was Fairfield’s lowest output of the season, after averaging 40 points per game.
After the game Fairfield Central head coach Demetrius Davis congratulated Dillon for their effort, but believed the Griffins did not play to their potential.
“They’re a good football team,” he noted. “They’re not that much better than us, we just couldn’t make they plays when we needed to make the plays.”
The Griffins only converted three of their 14 third down plays and were unsuccessful on all three of their fourth down plays. They were also just one of three inside the red zone.
Fairfield starting their opening drive with a 16-yard pass from DeAndre Belton to Tavares Cook, but were unable to pick up another first down and punted the football away.
Powered by the running game Dillon drove the ball 58 yards on 10 plays to put the first points on the scoreboard halfway through the first quarter. The Wildcat’s running game picked up 51 of the 58 yards on their opening drive, which set the tone for a night where Dillon would gain a total of 252 yards on the ground.
Facing a third-and-five on Fairfield’s following possession, Belton was picked off by Damu Ford. Ford returned to the interception 19 yards to the Fairfield 24-yard line.
Dillon would score on the next play, when Avery McCall aired out a pass that was caught by a diving Eri’Reon Hayes in the left corner of the end zone. Hayes torched the Fairfield secondary on what was his first of three touchdown catches. He finished the night with four receptions for 157 yards.
Hayes was the first receiver to go over the century mark against the Griffin defense this season.
With Dillon leading 14-0 the two teams traded punts, but Compton Walker was unable to fair-catch a punt at his 40-yard line and allowed the ball to bound all the way to the Griffin 17-yard line.
Not calling for a fair catch and allowing the opening kickoff to sail over the returner’s head were just a couple of special team’s plays that set up the Griffins with poor field position.
“In a state championship game every play is magnified,” Davis said. “Every play is either there to help you or to hurt you and losing momentum and field position in the first half really hurt us.”
After picking up one first down Fairfield Central punted the ball back to Dillon.
On a second-down play, Dillon’s receiver C.J. Sowells fumbled the ball inside the 10-yard line. Fairfield Central’s Khalil Keitt recovered the loose ball, but the Griffin offense was only able to muster a 27-yard field goal by Walker. Halfway through the second quarter, Fairfield trailed Dillon 14-3.
The two teams traded punts once again and Dillon took over at their own 20-yard line with three minutes remaining before halftime. After a 22-yard completion to Jay Johnson, McCall was able to connect with a streaking Hayes down the left sideline for a 57-yard touchdown. With that long scoring play, Dillon led 21-3 at the half.
At halftime, the Fairfield coaching staff believed they had made the adjustments needed to begin a comeback.
“Coming out of the half I really thought we were going to make a run to win the game,” Davis said after the game. “I always believe the biggest time of any game is the last five minutes of the first half and the first five minutes of the second half.”
During those two stretches, Fairfield gave up 21 points. Hayes was the catalyst for Dillon with two catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns during that run.
“We gave up so many points before and after the half that we just couldn’t recover,” Davis noted.
On the first play of the second half, Walker dropped an interception that could have changed the course of the game, because on the next play McCall threw a strike to Hayes for a touchdown. Hayes was crossing the field and picked up two blocks on the way into the end zone from 69 yards away.
Davis knows his team lost a golden opportunity on what could have been an interception by Walker.
“You have to make those plays,” he stated. “We told our players all week that the team that makes the most plays is going to be the team that will win the game.”
The game would begin to completely unravel on Fairfield’s ensuing possession. Following a 50-yard kickoff return by Byron Sampson to set up first down at the Dillon 42-yard line, the Griffins fumbled away a hook-and-ladder play. The pitch back from Walker to Joseph Young was fumbled and Dillon’s Justin Cyprien picked it up and rumbled 49 yards for the score.
The Wildcats added another touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter off a four-yard run by Anthony Blue to make the final score 41-3 in favor of Dillon. Blue finished with a game-high 156 rushing yards on 26 carries.
With the win, Dillon head coach Jackie Hayes earned his 250th career win and repeated as state champion. The Wildcats have now won four out of the last six state titles (2008, 2009, 2012, 2013).
Dillon came into the game allowing just 5.6 points per game and allowed just 17 points in four games during this year’s state title run.
After the loss, Davis told his team they should never be satisfied when they do not reach their goals, but they had a great season and should leave the field with their heads held high because they are back-to-back upper state champs.
“I feel bad for these kids because I really really wanted to get them a state championship,” he said. “We just have to get better and go back to the drawing board. You know 13-1 is a pretty good season, its just that one loss that came at the wrong time. When you set goals the way we set them and come up short it hurts. We’ll recover though, we’re going to go back to the drawing board to re-visit some things and change some things personnel wise.”