A stingy bend-but-not-break St. James defense and some big plays by the team’s offense led the Sharks to a 28-7 victory Friday over the Conway Tigers.
It was a game without playoff or region implications as both St. James and Conway squared off against each other with identical 1-4 records. The game was a fill-in for both teams that became possible when North Myrtle Beach canceled its game with St. James. Still, the contest was a hard fought battle from the opening kickoff till late in the fourth quarter. St. James repeatedly handed the ball to its go-to runner — the 5-foot-7, 161-pound Aryon Armstrong.
Armstrong, who carried the ball more than 20 times, responded with many off-tackle or up-the-middle runs of four, five or six yards. Occasionally, however, he broke loose for larger gains, such as his 14-yard run around the right end in the first quarter or his 20-yard gallop around left end for a first down in the last period.
Other standouts for St. James were Joey McMenamin, who scored a touchdown on a four-yard keeper in the first quarter; Cam Tibbits, who completed a long pass in the second quarter to wide receiver Austin Burdette; and Joe Kotwicki, who ran for a touchdown in the second quarter — thanks to a strong push given to him by the offensive line. Kotwicki also scored a touchdown on a quarterback keeper late in the third quarter.
Turning in notable performances for the Tigers were free safety Jay Woodard, who returned a first-quarter punt 90 yards for a touchdown (Conway’s only score in the game); and several rumbling power rushes in the fourth quarter by 240-pound running back Jamarrian Legette.
Trying to keep his team’s chances alive, Legette had runs of 20 yards, 19 yards and 15 yards. An injury caused him to leave the field, but he returned a few plays later with Conway facing a fourth down and goal to go from the six yard line.
However, the St. James defense stiffened, preventing Conway from crossing the goal line.
The score at the end of the first quarter was 7-7. At the half, St. James led 21-7. And with a little under six minutes left in the third quarter, the Sharks led 28-7.
There were moments in the game when it seemed Conway was on the verge of turning things around. Early on, for example, Conway sophomore wide receiver Alden Brantley caught a pass for a 10-yard gain. A Conway quarterback pass to Jameek Dukes, a junior wide receiver, resulted in a 15-yard gain. But an ineligible receiver downfield backed Conway up to the 29-yard line.
A long pass by Conway to wide receiver Cameron Alston was incomplete, but pass interference was called on the defender, giving the Tigers a first down on Conway’s 44-yard line. After a short gain and an offsides penalty against St. James, Conway quarterback Carlton Terry Jr. completed a pass to wide receiver Frederick Ajavon for a first down on the St. James 42.
A few plays later, facing a fourth down and three, Conway went for it. But St. James stopped the runner for a loss on the Sharks’ 34-yard line, and the ball went over on downs to St. James.
That’s the way it went much of the night. Each time Conway seemed to be mounting a drive, the St. James defense found a way to stop them.
The stadium’s crowd grew eerily quiet with four minutes and 11 seconds left in the game when Cam Tibbets, a tight end and linebacker for St. James, was injured, fell to the turf and didn’t move for several minutes. An ambulance with flashing lights was dispatched to the sidelines. As a hush remained over the crowd, Tibbets was helped onto a stretcher aboard a medical golf cart. He gave a thumbs up to the crowd, which returned the gesture with hearty applause.
The win by St. James, which next week plays Loris, was a different outcome for the Sharks, who lost in week one of the season to Conway, 21-16.
But St. James head coach Tommy Norwood didn’t see the victory as payback or redemption. He was just happy for his players.
“There’s no such thing as redemption. There’s no such thing as payback,” he said immediately after shaking hands with Conway head coach Carlton Terry at the end of the game. “We just want to get better every week … and when you’re 1-4 coming in, you take whatever you can.
“I’m real proud of our kids,” he added. “We got a bunch of kids that got hurt, and they just hung in there. That’s all you can ask.”
Norwood said he wasn’t sure how badly hurt Tibbets was, noting “We’ll just see. We have to find out.”
Cutting down on mistakes was a big difference in the way St. James played Friday night at home in the win against Conway — as opposed to the away-game close loss to the Tigers a few weeks ago.
“We made some plays,” Norwood said at the end of the first half. “Joe (Kotwicki) came in and made plays at quarterback. We haven’t made a lot of mistakes. The kids have played pretty good. We’ve made some stops and hopefully we can do it again. But we have to finish. That’s the key. We can’t make big mistakes and we’ve got to keep them from making big plays cause they’re a big-play team.”