CHERAW — The Fairfield Central Griffins (13-0) punched their ticket to the state finals Friday night, defeating the Cheraw Braves (8-5) by a score of 37-13 in Cheraw.
It will be the second straight trip to the state championship game for the Griffins, and it was the fourth time they defeated Cheraw in a calendar year.
The Fairfield defense played lights out by stopping Cheraw on three fourth downs and forcing three turnovers (two fumbles and one interception). The run-heavy attack from Cheraw was held to just 3.4 yards per carry.
“We came to play tonight and we knew we had to stop the run,” Fairfield head coach Demetrius Davis said after the game. “This time of year you have to be good on defense.”
Fairfield won the coin toss and as it has done all year, elected to receive and start with the football.
Following a 42-yard kickoff return by Compton Walker the offense set up in Cheraw territory at the 33-yard line. It took just six seconds to capitalize on the field position. Larry G. Bell busted up the middle, broke one tackle and then sprinted past the Cheraw safety who had fallen down on the play. It was the first of two rushing touchdowns for Larry G. Bell.
Following the kickoff, Cheraw did themselves no favors by fumbling the football on the return. Fairfield’s Josh Bell came away with the ball and again the Griffin offense would start their drive in Braves territory, this time at the 23-yard line. Davis said after the game that the kicking and return units played an important role in the win.
“Our special teams was big tonight and this time of year we need plays like that,” Davis noted.
It would take the Griffins five plays to cash in on the turnover. The drive was kept alive by a third-and-eight play, when Kewaun Squirewell hauled in an 11-yard pass to spot the ball inside the 10-yard line. Two plays later, it would be Larry G. Bell hammering home a five-yard touchdown run. The score gave him a team-high 18 rushing touchdowns for the season and spotted the Griffs a 14-0 lead just two minutes into the ball game.
Trailing by two touchdowns, Cheraw’s offense had yet to touch the football. On the Braves first drive they went three-and-out and were forced to punt.
On Fairfield’s ensuing drive DeAndre Belton had a 30-yard touchdown pass called back because of a penalty and the Griffins were eventually forced to punt giving Cheraw the ball at their own eight-yard line.
The Braves’ drive would stall on the 11th play of the drive, when they failed to convert on a fourth-and-five play at midfield. After the defensive stop, Fairfield’s offense took over at their own 43-yard line.
The two teams would trade punts, and halfway through the second quarter the Griffins would strike again. With the ball at midfield, Squirewell made a juggling catch down the right sideline to put the Griffins inside the redzone. Five plays later, while scrambling to his right, Belton found Tyren White in the end zone from 10 yards out to cap a 10-play 80-yard drive. Walker added the extra point and gave the Griffins a 21-0 lead.
On Cheraw’s ensuing drive, they would use 10 running plays to bang their way down to the Fairfield 10-yard line. However facing a fourth-and-one, the Griffins defense was able to stop Mark Bowman short of the first down marker just before the end of the first half. Davis stated that the defensive stops shifted momentum back into the Griffins’ favor.
“Anytime you can get them (Cheraw) off the field that is big,” he said. “Those fourth downs were huge because we were able to get those stops just before the half and keep them from scoring.”
Trailing 21-0, Cheraw started the third quarter with the ball and cranked out a 14-play drive that covered 79 yards and took six minutes off the clock. Khalil Newton ran off the right side and then spun off a Fairfield defender to polish off the drive and cut the deficit to 21-6.
Following the kickoff, Fairfield was forced to punt after a pass went in and out of Squirewell’s hands on third down.
After the punt, Cheraw took over at their own 36-yard line but turned the ball over on downs when Randall Watson was stuffed on a fourth-and-one play. Cheraw ended the game just two-of-five on fourth down plays and converted just four of their 12 third-down plays.
On the first play of Fairfield’s ensuing drive, Squirewell hauled in a 36-yard pass to set up the Griffins with a first-and-goal at the Cheraw 10-yard line. As time expired in the third quarter, White shook his defender on a double-move and caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Belton to put the Griffins up 27-6. Belton finished the night with three touchdowns passes, and Davis was pleased with the performance from his senior quarterback.
“He (Belton) had been struggling a little bit lately, but tonight he made some really good throws,” Davis noted.
Trailing 21 points, Cheraw’s rally attempt would be cut short when Newton fumbled on the second play of their ensuing drive. The loose ball was recovered by Dustin Padgett. Fairfield would score on the very next play when Belton threw a strike to Javaris Cook from 33-yards out on a post-route. That score stretched Fairfield’s lead to 34-6.
Walker added a 21-yard field goal halfway through the fourth quarter and Cheraw’s Teddy Gillespie added a late touchdown on a 49-yard reception. The Griffins’ 37-13 victory earned them their second straight upper-state championship.
After the game Davis said his team’s goals have always been to be state champions, and winning the region title and the upper-state title were just two goals they had to accomplish along the way.
“I felt like last year was a big hump for us to get over but we still have one more game to win,” Davis emphasized. “I hate to devalue that (back-to-back upper-state champions) because that is pretty good, but we’re focused on winning it all.”
Fairfield will play Dillon in the state championship game on Dec. 6 at Benedict College. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. For ticket information call 803-635-1441. The game will be broadcast live on 102.7 FM.