SIMPSONVILLE – Most football programs with 12 state championships in the trophy case don’t need any added confidence boosts. But when Abbeville rallied from a 24-point halftime deficit at Powdersville to win 35-34 in overtime last Friday, it had to give the Panthers a belief that even a run-oriented team like them could overcome any deficit.
This Friday, Abbeville reaffirmed that belief – and put the “run” in “rerun.” For the second straight week, the Panthers traveled to a proven, quality opponent and found themselves trailing by double digits at the half. For the second straight week, they rallied in the second half and for the second consecutive week, Karson Norman’s two-point conversion run in the final moments lifted them to victory. Class 2A’s No. 1-ranked and reigning state champion Abbeville stunned Class 1A No. 8 Southside Christian, 22-21, Friday night.
“Whether we won or lost this game, I was proud of the way we came back again. Our kids really fought against a really good football team,” Panthers coach Jamie Nickles said. “That (Southside Christian) team right there? You’ll see them in late November, I promise you.
“Karson’s the engine that makes it go. He really is. I’m just so proud of him and the effort. He just keeps on coming and coming.”
Last week’s rally was spurred by Abbeville’s defense coming up with three interceptions in the second half. This week, it only took one. The Panthers (3-0) trailed 14-0 after one quarter and 21-7 at the half Friday. It was still 21-7 early in the fourth quarter when a Southside Christian pass slipped off the fingers of an intended receiver and into the waiting arms of Abbeville’s Jaylon Baylor at the Sabres’ 44-yard line.
The stadium mood suddenly shifted. Because of what Abbeville did last week and/or because of that iconic circled red “A” on the side of those yellow helmets and all that symbols like that mean in the historic realm of high school football in this state, you could sense what was coming.
Altavious Patterson, Abbeville’s behemoth running back, carried for nine yards and then for 23. DaMarcus Leach, who started last week’s rally with the first two of those three interceptions, entered at quarterback to start this drive and ran for seven yards on the next play. Norman then scored from five yards out to get the lead down to 21-14 with 10:11 left.
“Our other quarterback wasn’t playing horrible, but Leach really gave us a spark we needed I thought,” Nickles said.
After forcing a punt, Abbeville took over at its own 27-yard line with 8:04 left. After getting on the board in the second quarter with a 15-play scoring drive that consisted of 14 runs and one incompletion, the Panthers did exactly the same thing on this one – 15 plays, 14 runs and one incompletion.
On third-and-two, Leach ran for seven yards. On third-and-15, Norman ran for 16. On third-and-four, Norman ran for 15. On third-and-12, Leach kept for 12. On the next play, Leach scored from four yards out to cut the lead to 21-20 with 56.2 seconds left. There was never a debate about what was coming next.
“It’s kind of a feel thing. You’d just driven it all the way down there and had so much momentum,” Nickels said. “It’s a non-region game, so it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get it. I just thought it was the right thing to do, win or lose.”
Norman started in motion from left to right, took the handoff around the right side of the line and plunged into the end zone for the successful conversion. The celebration was on, but not quite as ecstatic as last week’s because there was still work to do – against a Southside Christian spread offense that had four different receivers collect at least 51 yards receiving Friday.
But against a bunch of fired-up Panthers, the Sabres only got one yard on their ensuing drive. After the fourth down pass was knocked away, Abbeville just needed a kneel down to secure another thrilling win.
“We just kept believing, believing in each other and we got it done,” said Norman, who had a team-high 115 of Abbeville’s 336 yards rushing. Patterson finished with 79 yards rushing.
In its simplest form, a close game Friday was decided by who ran the ball better. While Southside Christian’s quarterback duo of Paul Cobin and Carson Coleman combined for 274 yards passing, those passing yards could somehow never open any running holes. The Sabres were held to minus-18 yards rushing. Oftentimes, that will mean five or six sacks by the opposing defense, but Abbeville had only one Friday. That’s just how good its run defense was.
Boleman, a sophomore who’s already committed to play baseball at Wake Forest, completed 12-of-18 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns for the Sabres (0-2). Cobin was 11-of-22 passing for 108 yards.