As you exit South Carolina’s luxurious football home locker room, you pass under a doorway. Above it says “Leave no doubt.”
The point was taken by South Pointe’s football team Saturday night during the 4A state title game against Hartsville. The Stallions, winners of three straight state championships before Saturday, were ranked fourth in the country, riding a 19-game playoff win streak and already anointed the state champions by most observers across the state.
That made coach Strait Herron more nervous than anything. But his team left no doubt at Williams-Brice Stadium, bashing the Red Foxes 38-14 for a fourth straight state championship. In the end, South Pointe’s championship success was as inevitable as the sun beginning its day on one side of the Earth and finishing on the other.
South Pointe won its 20th playoff game in a row and the school’s sixth title. The Stallions joined an elite group of five other schools -- Florence, Woodruff, Byrnes, Christ Church and Dillon -- as the only ones to win four straight football state championships.
Never miss a local story.
Sign up today for unlimited digital access to our website, apps, the digital newspaper and more.
“That was the motivation for this week,” said Herron. “We want to be known as the best in South Carolina. So we had to come out tonight and finish this season and have a great performance.”
South Pointe wanted the ball first to open the game. It lost the coin toss but the Red Foxes captains deferred to the second half. That’s probably because they knew they were about to onside kick. And the Red Foxes recovered the kick, only to discover it hadn’t traveled far enough.
The Stallions subsequently scored on their first two drives to put immediate pressure on Hartsville within the first five minutes. South Pointe was driving again early in the second quarter when it fumbled in Red Foxes’ territory.
Jeff Calabrese’s team mounted a 14-play drive to cut the deficit in half, taking advantage of a South Pointe encroachment penalty on a fourth-and 3 at the Stallions’ 26. A.J. Joyner scored a couple of plays later on a 4-yard run to make it 14-7.
A 15-yard penalty on the ensuing kickoff hurt the Red Foxes, giving South Pointe the ball at its 49-yard line with less than 4 minutes to play in the half. The Stallions seized upon the mistake, driving down to the 1-yard line where they converted a fourth-and goal, Marice Whitlock breezing into the end zone thanks to dominant blocking up front for a 21-7 lead.
Hartsville got the ball first in the second half, down 14 points, and a Red Foxes touchdown would have made a game of it. But South Pointe got the defensive stop it needed. The Red Foxes converted a fourth-and 1 run, but couldn’t go for another fourth down when an excellent open-field tackle by Deangelo Huskey left Hartsville needing eight yards for the first.
“We couldn’t get the things done that we needed to get done,” said Calabrese. “There were a couple of key points in the game where we got within range that just didn’t work out.”
After Huskey’s tackle, the Red Foxes punted and South Pointe scored twice in the quarter to bury Hartsville in a state final for the third time in the last four years.
“If we hadn’t fumbled that ball on that third drive I think we would have been in a different game,” said Herron, who has coached South Pointe to five titles in his seven seasons. “So coming out in the second half was important for us. We did a good job in the second half of doing what we wanted to do.”
Related stories from The Herald
As it has been all year, South Pointe was just more explosive on offense. The Stallions outgained the Red Foxes in rushing yardage, averaging 7.2 yards per carry to Hartsville’s 3.2, while holding the Red Foxes’ star ball-carrier, Tiyon Evans, to just 80 yards rushing. That made an early 14-point deficit insurmountable for Hartsville.
Whitlock scored a pair of touchdowns, the second a 19-yard scoring catch on a seam rout that made it 35-7 and buried the Red Foxes for good. South Pointe had called the same play against Greer in the Upper State championship but Whitlock ran the wrong route. Unfortunately for Hartsville, the junior running back ran the correct one Saturday.
“When it all came together you seen what happened, it’s a good play,” he said, smiling.
Kendrick accounted for seven touchdowns and nearly 400 yards of offense in the Upper State championship win at Greer and was nearly as good against Hartsville. He threw for 124 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 119 and another in his final game in a South Pointe jersey.
Senior defensive linemen Jalen Pickett-Hicks and Eli Adams again teamed up to terrorize Hartsville’s backfield. Pickett-Hicks, playing with a bum ankle that had him in a walking boot and on crutches all week, made nine tackles and recorded two sacks, while Adams notched eight tackles, with 2.5 for a loss, in front of a Virginia Tech assistant coach.
And South Pointe kicker B.T. Potter did his usual thing, hitting all seven of his kickoffs for touchbacks and also nailing a 23-yard field goal.
South Pointe 38, Hartsville 14
SP - Derion Kendrick 11 yd run (B.T. Potter kick), 9:46
SP - Scott Robinson 14 yd pass from Kendrick (Potter kick), 5:40
H - AJ Joyner 4 yd run (Caleb Caldwell kick), 4:04
SP - Marice Whitlock 1 yd run (Potter kick), 1:22
SP - Ty Good 2 yd pass from Kendrick (Potter kick), 5:38
SP - Marice Whitlock 19 yd pass from Kendrick (Potter kick), 2:45
SP - B.T. Potter 23 yd field goal, 10:19
H - Dariyan Pendergrass 2 yd run (Caldwell kick), 1:34
RUSHING: Hartsville -Tiyon Evans 16-80, Collins Bishop 9-39, Dariyan Pendergrass 2-28, AJ Joyner 15-15, Donovan Lambert 9-15, Zavaric Hines 3-14. Team 1- (-14). South Pointe - Derion Kendrick 11-119, Joe Ervin 10-78, Marice Whitlock 5-23, Donovan McClinton 1-7, Quay Chambers 1-3, Tahleek Steele 1- (-1); Team 2 (-10).
PASSING: Hartsville - AJ Joyner 4-6-0-45. South Pointe - Derion Kendrick 14-17-0-124, Tahleek Steele 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING: Hartsville - Tiyon Evans 1-36, Zavaric Hines 1-5, Dashawn Davis 1-3, Quise Huggins 1-1. South Pointe - Scott Robinson 3-46, Issac Ross 3-35, Joe Ervin 2-24, Marice Whitlock 2-16, Ty Good 2-5, Steve Gilmore 2- (-2).
RECORDS: South Pointe 15-0, Hartsville 13-2.