The St. James Sharks earned their first win of the season Friday, defeating Lamar 20-12.
The Silver Foxes, who have 14 wins against higher-division schools in the past five years and who are ranked No. 1 in the state in Class A, didn’t go down easily.
"We knew we had four toughies [coming up] and Lamar was preseason No. 1 in the state [in Class A]," Sharks coach Tommy Norwood said. "Right now, they’re No. 1 in 1A, but we just played well. They’ve got some good players.”
The outcome of the contest was in doubt for practically the entire game. The Sharks were able to kneel in the victory formation with about 80 seconds left to play. It was a close, hard-fought battle between two teams hungry for a win. Lamar entered the game 2-0 with their No. 1 state ranking on the line. St. James had been 0-2 entering the contest, with close losses to region foes Conway and Socastee.
The score at the end of the first quarter was all knotted up, 6-6. By halftime, St. James clung to a one-point lead, 13-12. By the end of the third quarter, the Sharks led, 20-12.
It was a game plagued by numerous miscues — dead ball fouls, pass interference, a holding penalty, fumbles, kickoffs that went out of bounds and had to be re-kicked, failed point-after attempts by the Silver Foxes and a pass interception (by Dylan Orschell of the Sharks). But it was also a game that featured strong running by the Sharks’ Aryon Armstrong, who on at least two occasions seemed to move the entire Silver Fox defensive front four as he kept bullying his way over and through tackles.
Although those kinds of runs didn’t result in scores, they kept the ball away from the Silver Foxes.
St. James also got a good steady performance from its replacement quarterback, Joey McMenamin. Alex Jones, the team’s starting quarterback in its first two games of the season, is out with an injury.
A McMenamin-to-Cam Tibbits pass resulted in a touchdown in the second quarter, and a run by McMinamin with only about a minute left in the third quarter got the Sharks another six points.
Running back Pat Anderson of Lamar helped keep it a close contest with his excellent performance — one run resulting in a touchdown — and pass receptions from quarterback Tyler McManus. Lamar wide receiver Derrick Higgins also made some big catches.
But throughout the game, the Silver Foxes couldn’t seem to stop the Sharks from running for big chunks of yardage behind their huge offensive line. Those Sharks offensive line stars were Hunter Brock (listed at 331 pounds); Chance Martin (303 pounds); Nate Murphy (235 pounds); and Evan Brink (201 pounds).
Still, however, the visiting team from Darlington County never gave up. Late in the fourth quarter, for example, the Silver Foxes faced fourth down and six yards on their own side of the 50. Their quarterback launched a long pass that was complete to wide receiver T.J. Dolford, advancing the ball to the 35 yard line of St. James. But two plays later, the Silver Foxes fumbled and the ball was recovered by the Sharks at midfield.
Those kinds of errors hurt the Silver Foxes greatly.
With about five minutes left in the game, the Sharks took over the ball and never gave it up, thanks to relentless running by Armstrong and wide receiver Justice Williams.
With time winding down on the clock, a Sharks fan yelled: “Run it down their throat!”
And that’s what the home team did, never again giving up the ball.
Next week, St. James faces the region's top team in Sumter. The Gamecocks came back to defeat Carolina Forest 34-27 in overtime Friday night.
And how does Norwood plan to have his team ready for what is sure to be a challenge?
“By practicing,” he said.