The Cotton-Eye Joe entertained the camo-packed St. James stadium Friday night for the matchup between the Sharks and the Sumter Fighting Gamecocks.
In their last meeting, the Gamecocks pecked their way to a 50-7 victory. St. James showed just a bit more teeth this time, but with no better outcome. Sumter beat St. James 33-14 in a game laden with turnovers.
“First of all, you credit St. James,” said Sumter coach Mark Barnes. “And I thought the first half, their players played harder than our players did. I think the second half now we played with a lot more energy, especially on the defensive side of the football. We were opportunistic with turnovers. We turned it over too and did a good job of not letting them turn those into points. And then when they turned it over, we were able to score.”
Most of the points, however, went on the board in the first half.
Sumter started off strong with their second and third drives of the night ending in goal-line rushes from running back Chris Ramirez, quickly putting St. James 14 points in the hole.
On the Sharks’ fourth possession, quarterback Joey McMenamin was picked off by Sumter free safety Zyeir Gamble, who ran it back for a touchdown. It wouldn’t be his last interception or his last pick six.
“He’s a really good football player,” Barnes said. “Thank goodness he’s a junior as well.”
St. James’ only two scores came from a 10-yard touchdown pass from McMenamin to Ben Sandt and a rushing touchdown from running back Chase Washington.
“At times we played real well, and then we made too many mistakes at crucial times,” St. James coach Tommy Norwood said. “And we had some opportunities to score, but we ended up shooting ourselves in the foot a little bit. Last year they beat us 50-7. This year we cut the gap a little bit. I thought our kids played pretty hard, and we’ve just got to eliminate those mistakes where you play people who are supposed to be better than you are.”
Sumter’s other first half score came from a 60-yard rush by Jabari Tiller, and in the second half the Gamecocks' Gamble ran back his third interception and second pick six, putting the final points on the board.
St. James put up no more points in the second half, and Norwood said the team needed improvement in both coaching and playing.
“There’s times tonight we threw the ball real well, there’s times tonight our defense threw around made some big keys, some big hits,” Norwood said. “We still got a long way to go. It’s early. We haven’t played the same five offensive linemen yet, and all have started. So hopefully they’re going to get a little better.”
The matchup was originally supposed to happen last week, but thanks to COVID-19, the game was delayed and Sumter played Conway instead.
“It just looked like we were flat. It’s a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride; it’s a long day,” Barnes added. “But don’t take anything away from their group, their group played hard tonight and I know their coach is proud of ‘em. But we played well enough to win, and I reckon an ugly win is better than a pretty loss, ain’t it? There’s no such thing as a pretty loss.”
Still, Barnes thinks his team also needs to get better. “We’re not as good right now as some of the people in our program think we are.”