GREENVILLE – “It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish” is a saying that can often be applied to sports. In front of a huge, raucous crowd at Sirrine Stadium Friday night, Greenville’s defensive effort might have inspired a response of “why not both?”
For three-and-a-half quarters, the Red Raiders defense held J.L. Mann’s explosive offense in check. A late flurry by the Patriots, who were undefeated and had not been held under 40 points in any game entering Friday, had the Raiders on their heels.
When it was needed most though, Greenville’s defense planted its feet and stood tall. Ramani Bruton’s interception in the end zone with 24 seconds left sealed the Raiders’ 21-19 victory as the home fans roared. Some Greenville officials said the crowd was the biggest they’d ever seen at Sirrine. As of 10 minutes before kickoff the lines to get in had stretched completely through the parking lot and onto the sidewalk along University Ridge.
“I take my hat off to (Mann) Coach (Scoot) Watson and his team. They came over here and played with a lot of resiliency. Unfortunately, somebody had to lose tonight but I can tell you people got their money’s worth,” Greenville coach Greg Porter said. “The atmosphere and the fans on both sides of the stadium is great for high school football in Greenville County. I’m so proud of our team coming out victorious.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game. It’s a rivalry. Both teams laid it on the line … but our defense prevailed. They had to make a big stop and it came on a great play by Ramani Bruton.”
Raiders’ star playmaker Mazeo Bennett, who had been out with an injury, dressed out Friday and got some snaps in. He wasn’t in on that opening series, but that didn’t stop a fired-up Greenville (3-2) squad from marching right down on a 10-play drive that culminated with a one-yard touchdown run by Kylar Zimmerman.
The Patriots (4-1) also moved the ball down the field on their ensuing possession, but ended up settling for a 23-yard field goal that was blocked. That block may have played a larger role later on in the game in terms of decision making.
Led by its ferocious front line, Greenville’s defense settled in for a dominant opening half after that first drive. Three consecutive three-and-outs by Mann included passes batted down at the line by linemen Jayden Wilson-Abrams and Bruce Knauber. Those kinds of plays were critically important as so much of Mann’s offense is based on timing and quick, slant passes.
“It’s our last ride here with all three seniors starting up front. We have that chemistry,” said Knauber, who’s committed to Furman. “We just push each other to try to better ourselves.”
Greenville pushed the lead to 14-0 with 4:38 left in the half on a 32-yard touchdown pass from Bryson Drummond to Brayden Renfrow. Little did anyone know then that the Raiders would have just one more pass completion for the rest of the night and that came on its very next play later in the second quarter.
Mann finally got on the board on the opening drive of the second half. On 3rd-and-17, Ethan Anderson fired a perfect pass that landed in the arms of Keyshun Henderson as he crossed the goal line.
On the PAT, a pair of Greenville penalties turned out to be two key plays for the Raiders. The first penalty moved the ball up a yard-and-a-half, but the extra point missed. A flag on that play moved the ball inside the one. The Patriots changed course and decided to go for two, but the Raiders strung out the wide run and it was stuffed well short of the goal line. That left Greenville with a 14-6 lead.
With its passing game in a bit of a funk, Greenville still pulled off the drive of the night. The Raiders went 95 yards on nine plays, all of which were runs, culminating with Zimmerman’s 40-yard touchdown. Zimmerman carried seven times for 87 yards on that drive as Greenville extended its lead to 21-6 with 8:41 left.
Little did anyone know then that the 40-yard jaunt would be the last positive yard of the night for the Raiders. The Patriots loaded up the box and held Greenville to minus-18 yards over its final seven plays.
A pair of touchdown passes by Anderson got Mann to within two at 21-19 with 2:49 left. He looked to have an open receiver on the two-point conversion attempt before Greenville’s Raymone Whitner came over and broke it up.
As the Raiders desperately tried to run out the clock on its ensuing possession, disaster struck them on 3rd-and-13. After faking a handoff to the right, it looked like Drummond wanted to roll left but was surrounded by Patriots. As he was grabbed and pulled around for a potential sack, Drummond tried to make a play but his pass went right to Mann defensive end Alex McDaniel.
The interception gave the Patriots the ball at the Greenville 30-yard line with 1:34 remaining and one timeout left. Mann advanced to the 17, which would’ve been around a 34-yard field goal. On the next play, Knauber’s man was flagged for holding which backed the Patriots up to the 27. Two plays later, Mann took that shot to the end zone that Bruton picked off to seal it.
“I knew they were going for a touchdown. Defense had to step up, so I did just that,” Bruton said. “This brings us into another big game next week against Westside with a lot of confidence.”
Zimmerman finished with 143 yards rushing on 19 carries to lead Greenville. Renfrow had two receptions for 95 yards also for the Raiders.
Anderson finished with 307 yards on 18-of-34 passing with three touchdowns for Mann. Mikel McClellan had nine catches for 128 yards and a touchdown, while Henderson caught five passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
“Sometimes we like for things to come easy, but it’s good when you have a game like this and come out on the victorious side. It reveals the character of your team,” Porter said. “Hopefully we can continue to build on that.”
More than $700,000 raised for local charities
Some of the biggest reactions of the night happened at halftime when the Spirit Week fundraising totals for local charities were revealed. Mann raised more than $410,000 for Cole’s Victory Lap, while Greenville collected more than $318,000 for Project Host and Pendleton Place.