Jason Allen had the guts to put it to the test.
His players had the ability to execute.
The Blue Jackets knocked off perennial state powerhouse Dillon on Friday night with a 38-30 victory that ended the Wildcats’ 52-game winning streak in region play. In the process, Allen’s team grabbed control of Region VI-3A, will almost assuredly end up winning the region title barring a complete collapse and will have more eyes upon it than any set of Aynor players and coaches in three decades.
“We’re as physical as we thought we were,” Allen said after his team improved to 7-0 on the season and 3-0 inside the region. “That’s how you’re going to beat a team like Dillon; you’re going to run right at them and keep the ball and hope they make mistakes.”
There was little doubt that Aynor was geared up for this one. However, unlike some of the early scares they were able to put into the Wildcats before flaming out in the second half in recent years, this one was different.
From the onset, it was clear the Blue Jackets’ offense was going to control the clock with its assortment of runs between and outside the tackles. It hardly mattered that two of Allen’s starting offensive linemen were injured in the last seven days and were unable to play.
Aynor’s offense dominated, ultimately owning the time of possession for 37 minutes and 1 second of the 48-minute contest.
Quarterback Andrew Brown led the way with 39 carries for 150 yards and three touchdowns, and Noah Jones also had two rushing scores. But this one wasn't just about how the Blue Jackets found the end zone, but rather how they kept Dillon’s high-powered offense off the field.
In fact, after Wildcats’ quarterback Jay Lester — who earlier had thrown three first-half touchdowns to Ahmari Huggins-Bruce — tied the game at 30-30 with his 1-yard touchdown run one play into the fourth quarter, he and the rest of the offense never touched the ball again.
On the ensuing possession, Brown led his team on a 70-yard scoring drive that chewed up 7:34.
Then came the biggest call of the night.
Allen signaled for an onside kick, which his team recovered, and Brown and Co. were able to run out the final 4:13 by picking up a pair of first downs.
“We don’t kick it deep a lot, and the first [onside kick attempt earlier in the second half] they ran back [to the Aynor 27-yard line],” Brown said. “It took a lot for him to do it again. It paid off for us, and that’s what great coaches do — they make crucial calls.”
Said Allen: “I don’t know if we can stop them, so let’s go for the win. If we get it, we get it. If we don’t, we don’t, and we still have a chance to play defense. … I felt like if we got the ball, we’d have a chance to run out the clock.”
That’s something that no other region team has been able to do against Dillon since Halloween night of 2008. That’s when the Wildcats dropped a 24-6 loss to Cheraw in the regular season finale. To say that Dillon regrouped in a huge way is putting it lightly.
Jackie Hayes’ team went on to win the Class 2A state title a little over a month later. It then won state championships again in 2009, four straight from 2012-2015 and another in 2017. Throughout that span, the Wildcats rattled off 52 consecutive region victories, with just one of those games decided by single digits.
“At some point in time, that was going to end anyway,” Hayes said. “My hat’s off to them for being the one to do it. It’ll probably be a long time before anyone does that again.
“It’s hard to play against that for four quarters. Think about it: They never jumped offsides, didn’t have a motion penalty, no bad snaps. They about played a perfect game.”
Aynor has been building toward this for the past two seasons.
Allen, the former longtime assistant coach (and Aynor grad) has created a swagger, especially late in games. Offensive lineman Colby Todd credited a large chunk of that toward assistant coach Andrew Fox, also the team’s strength and conditioning coordinator.
“Everybody’s got a job to do. We take pride in holding each other accountable,” Todd said. “It’s staying in shape, that way when the fourth quarter comes, we can push away from the teams.”
Doing that against East Clarendon or St. James or even region foes Cheraw or Marion is one thing. To manhandle Dillon like that in the final period is something completely different.
Proving how rare this type of win has been, it was the first time Aynor had won a game in this series since the two teams became region opponents in 2006. And according to the web site SCFootballHistory.com, it was the Blue Jackets’ first win over Dillon since 1950.
All of those streaks on both sides are now over, and anyone who doubted that it is a new era of Aynor football is now a believer.
“We don’t play the prettiest brand of football. It’s not flashy. It’s just what we do,” Brown said. “The lights on us now, they’re brighter. They are going to be no matter where we go. To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man. And we beat the man tonight.”