Self-inflicted wounds brought an end to Marlboro County High's hopes in the Class AAAA state playoffs. Lower Richland defeated the Bulldogs 20-14 Friday night in Columbia in the first round to eliminate them from the postseason.
The loss ended a season of missed opportunities as the Bulldogs finish with a 2-9 overall record.
"It all came down to holding on to the football. We played right with them but turnovers will kill you and that was the case here," said Bobby Collins, Marlboro County head coach.
"It was a case of guys just trying to make plays but getting the ball knocked out but it was the difference between winning and losing," he said.
In a preview of things to come, Marlboro County suffered a fumble on their first snap of the game. The turnover gave the Diamond Hornets the ball at midfield.
Lower Richland drove deep into Marlboro County territory, only to turn it over themselves. Skishaun Palmer picked off a LR pass, his sixth interception of the season, near the endzone.
The Diamond Hornets would turn the Bulldogs' poor field position into the game's first points moments later. The LR defensive line surged through to sack Marlboro quarterback Darius Grant in the endzone for a safety.
After taking the ensuing kickoff, LR could not move and was forced to line up to punt. The snap was mishandled and Marlboro County took over at the Diamond Hornet 32-yard line.
Four plays later, Grant hit Jamiek McCoy on a pass near the LR 20. McCoy spun, avoiding a trio of tacklers, broke another tackle and sprinted into the endzone.
Zach Rogers' extra point gave the Bulldogs a 7-2 lead.
After exchanging punts twice, Lower Richland marched from midfield to retake the lead. With Jeremy Barney, the Hornets' starting running back taking over at quarterback, they moved to the Bulldog 6, mainly using the sophomore's legs.
Barney then hit Nate Branch for the touchdown. A two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving LR with an 8-7 that they would take to the halftime locker room.
The Diamond Hornets added to their lead with a 53-yard drive midway through the third quarter. Barney rushed to the Bulldogs' 30, passed to the 5-yard line, then ran in for the score.
Another failed two point conversion left the Bulldogs trailing 14-7.
Marlboro County fumbled the ensuing kickoff but the defense held firm and LR turned the ball over on downs at the Bulldog 20.
The Marlboro offense answered with what would have been their finest drive of the season if not for the way it ended. The Bulldogs sliced through the Lower Richland defense, using both their rushing attack and short passing game.
They reached the Hornets' 8-yard line and on a running play appeared to have scored the potential tying touchdown. Instead, the ball carrier was stripped right before he stepped into the endzone and the ball ended up in the hands of a defender.
Lower Richland picked up a first down near the Bulldogs' 30 but then had to punt.
Marlboro County drove from their own 26 into Diamond Hornet territory only to fumble.
Lower Richland marched quickly to put the Bulldogs in a two-score hole. Barney hit Travis Reese racing alone through the center of the defense for a 34-yard TD pass. The two-point conversion failed but the Bulldogs trailed 20-7 with less than four minutes to play.
The Marlboro offense finally held onto the ball and zipped down the field for a touchdown. Grant connected with Jamonte Dupree for a 33-yard gain to the LR 20.
On the next play, Grant connected with McCoy for the final time, hitting the senior in the flats with a short pass. McCoy sprinted to the endzone, giving the Bulldogs hope for a miracle finish.
However, the onside kick failed and Lower Richland was able to run out the clock.
"Like so much this season, we were just a few plays away. We competed and played hard - it just didn't work out," said Collins.
Grant finished with 153 yards on 11 of 19 passing. McCoy had 7 receptions for 93 yards and two TDs. Anari Brown caught 3 passes for 22 yards and Jamonte Dupree had 1 reception for 38 yards.
D.J Hicks rushed for 46 yards on 12 attempts. Jacardo Riggins gained 14 yards on 5 attempts.
The Bulldogs complete what is likely their final season in Class AAAA with a 2-9 record, 1-4 in Region 6 games. The school is expected to be reclassified as a AAA school when the realignment is announced in the next few months.
Other region teams
All four of the other Region 6-AAAA teams remain alive in the state playoffs.
Myrtle Beach had a bye the first week. They will host region rival North Myrtle Beach Friday night. NMB shocked North Augusta, 38-31 last Friday.
Wilson also pulled off something of an upset, defeating Hilton Head, 47-34. The Tigers will take on Brookland-Cayce on the road this Friday.
Hartsville defeated South Aiken, 28-16 and will host Beaufort this Friday night in the second round.