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Defense shines as Waccamaw improves to 4-1

By Joshua Ford | Waccamaw Contributor

The Waccamaw Warriors were able to battle through adversity and come out on top of the St. John’s Islanders in a 28-6 victory at home on Friday night.

The Islanders dropped to 1-4 on the season while the Warriors ended non-region play at 4-1, having won three in a row, a feat they haven’t achieved since 2013.

“I’m feeling like this is the best Waccamaw has ever done going into region play, which is where it all really matters,” said senior linebacker Evan Grove who had two sacks and eight tackles, four of them for lost yardage. “We’re 4-1 and I don’t see any signs of us slowing down.”

The Warriors didn’t start all that fast.

After a 48-yard run from running back Kaimon Skinner, who finished with 15 carries for 133 yards and a touchdown, the Warriors settled for a 30-yard field goal, which sophomore Jackson Forrest kicked straight through to put the Warriors ahead 3-0 with 9:54 left in the first quarter.

After the Islanders were forced to punt after a third down sack by Grove, Waccamaw couldn’t capitalize on a third and eight where Tyree Funnye beat his defender on a streak, but the senior had a rare drop.

Waccamaw wanted to make a bang on their ensuing possession and they did, scoring on their first play: a 62-yard touchdown run on a fullback dive by Kaisaun Grate who bounced it to the right where no defenders were home. A 10-0 start for the Warriors.

St. John’s couldn’t get much going on their next drive; Grove started things out with a sack and fellow senior Antionio Haggins ended the drive with a fourth down sack.

However, mistakes and penalties plagued both teams in the second quarter. Waccamaw’s quarterback Denson Crisler was sacked twice on the next drive, but punter Markell Strang was able to pin the Islanders back to their own five yard line where they went three and out. 

Waccamaw couldn’t take advantage and lost the ball on a strip sack on the last play of the half where lineman Kyle Pence made the touchdown saving tackle. 

Waccamaw continued to face adversity in the second half, starting with the third kickoff of the game that went out of bounds. The Islanders drove down the field and converted a third and 18 with a 19-yard completion to set them up at the one yard line. Their elusive quarterback snuck into the endzone and cut the deficit 10-6.

St. John’s recovered the ensuing onside kick and made their way down the field again but Waccamaw’s defense stood strong. On a fourth down, lineman Victor Otubu wrestled down the QB to end the drive and finally let the offense see the field with 2:55 left in the third quarter.

The offense didn’t waste any time. Javion Simmons took a toss play to the right, juked a defender and was off to the races for a 60-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 16-6.

“When we faced adversity against Aynor we didn’t handle it well, but tonight we did and that made me proud,” head coach Shane Fidler said. “We were up 10-0, we should’ve been up more than that in the first half, we just didn’t execute correctly.”

In the fourth quarter, penalties and mistakes arose again. A pass interference call started the quarter and on a punt return, Kam Green fumbled and the Islanders recovered. The Warrior defense held up and forced a turnover on downs.

It appeared as if the Warriors were going to score on another opening play touchdown, this one 70 yards from Skinner, but the play was called back after a penalty.

Waccamaw stayed poised, however, and Crisler found Funnye on a streak for a 29-yard touchdown to put Waccamaw ahead 22-6 with 6:57 left to play.

Crisler was only two of eight passing for 31 yards.

“We kind of started off the second half pretty bad, honestly,” Funnye said. “That gave us a drive and that gave us momentum because we wanted to correct that immediately and make sure the team didn’t come back.”

“They kept answering every time there was adversity and that’s huge. Especially for a young team like us,” Fidler said.”

“In the history of Waccamaw, when we get down we would just stay in that mentality and end up losing, but I think this team is different,” Grove said. “The way we face adversity, we overcome it now and I think it showed up on the scoreboard.”

The final score came by a five yard touchdown run by Skinner with four minutes remaining. Waccamaw held on 28-6. The Warriors had 256 total rushing yards, which was greater than the 137 total yardage that St. John’s had.

“It’s just us coming together as a team, which we did not do last year,” center Jacob Holdridge said of the way the team handled adversity. “Last year was all individual. This year, we’re all coming together as a team.”

To make things tougher, half of the team was battling sickness, including Holdridge and Fidler.

“We had multiple players on the field tonight that probably wouldn’t have been at school if there wasn’t a football game. It’s not an excuse,” Fidler said. “Jacob Holdridge was awfully sick. He knew on the sideline to hydrate and relax then on the field get after it and he did. Very impressed with him. He grew up tonight a lot and we have to rely on him because he’s our center. He’s the heart of the OL.”

“Like with any game, it starts up front, and it’s not just the O-line but the D-line also,” Holdridge said. “Protecting Denson was sloppy tonight. It wasn’t as good as it could’ve and should’ve been, but we’re five games into the season and we can only get better.”

The team is dialed in completely on this region schedule and knows they have to be completely focused if they want a banner.

“We gotta stay humble,” Holdridge said. “You look at what we did against Carver’s Bay (44-0 W) and we went into Aynor cocky like we were on the top of the world and we got rocked (54-13 L). We just have to remain humble throughout the region, and if we keep on working like we’ve been working since the summer, we’re going to be good this year.”

“I was telling them that, going into next week, we gotta go 110 percent,” Funnye explained on what he told the team post-game. “Make sure the grades are right, make sure everybody is healthy, come out to practice serious, make sure everything is in tack so we can execute greatly on Friday when we play [Georgetown] so it can be a good game and get the win for our first region dub.

“It’ll be a pretty good game, might be a little tight game but it doesn’t matter because we’re gonna keep driving. We got a little confidence, we’re gonna keep moving, keep the momentum and and see if we can go 5-1.”

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