DUNCAN – James Oates could hear the footsteps.
The Byrnes linebacker was galloping down the home sideline at Nixon Field, with one thought crashing through his mind.
“I was basically running for my life, hoping that I didn’t get hawked down,” he said with a laugh.
No worries there. Oates reached the end zone safely before anybody even laid a hand on him, and even then it was his teammates in a wild celebration.
His interception seconds before had caused Nixon Field to erupt. The ensuing touchdown, right at 80 yards and coming with a little more than a minute on the clock, officially put away a 21-9 win over Spartanburg and a 1-0 start in Region II-5A play.
“Our defense proved tonight that they’ve got to be one of the best in the state,” Byrnes coach Reggie Shaw said. “We put them in tough situations, and just hat’s off. They found a way to win.”
Defense got it done all night, for both teams. Each kept coming up with big play after big play, and at huge times.
Armoni Weaver’s early strip, recovery, and return for a touchdown doubled Byrnes’ early lead to 14-0. A safety got Spartanburg on the board in the third quarter. In between, Chris Foster, Knai Cook, and the Byrnes defense created what was virtually a no-fly zone in the defensive backfield.
Not to say that moving it on Spartanburg was any easier. Bennie Gibson, Cam’Rich Smith, LaCharles Woodruff and company made sure of that. Woodruff had a couple of stunning deflections. Gibson had Byrnes QB Andrew Stevens under pressure for most of the night. Smith was pretty much just everywhere, playing with reckless abandon.
The offensive highlights consisted of just a couple of plays both ways, as neither team had 250 yards of total offense, and neither rushed for 140. The offense that did exist, though, was huge. On Byrnes’ second drive, Tre Segarra slipped sideways at the line, hesitated, ran through an arm tackle, and dashed 68 yards for a TD to put Byrnes on top 7-0 early.
Spartanburg’s best offensive answer wouldn’t come for quite a while. TJ Johnson found Justin Rice with a beautiful throw-and-catch on the last play of the third quarter, and Johnson scored from six yards out on the first play of the fourth, making it 14-9 and setting the stage for the finish.
Spartanburg’s second-best drive of the night might have been its last. The Vikings methodically marched deep into Byrnes territory, methodically chewing yards and clock. Foster’s sack posed a threat, but a penalty on the next play bailed the Vikings out, and they seemed poised to have a shot at a win.
Right up until Oates correctly diagnosed a play and did something about it.
“I saw a slant, I saw the ball thrown, and I took it,” he said.
Shaw said the region start was as good for the Rebels as the defensive performance.
“We’re 1-0 in the region, man,” he said. “This sets up everything. This is special tonight. I’m just kind of speechless. They’re a really good defense, we knew it was going to be a defensive struggle, and I’m just so proud of the guys. They kept fighting and they found a way.”