Rams best in South State
WOODVILLE — Even if he was supposed to rush the quarterback, Wilkinson County Christian Academy’s Hayden Patterson was glad he didn’t.
Trailing 28-18 with 4:13 left in regulation, Newton Academy quarterback Tanner Smith attempted a screen pass in the middle of the field on fourth down. But Patterson was there waiting for it, catching the ball on the Newton 30-yard line and returning it for a touchdown to put the Rams up 35-18.
It was a game-defining moment on a chilly Friday night, and it was likely the moment that sealed WCCA’s first South State championship since 1988.
Even though WCCA had three players rushing the quarterback unblocked right before his interception, Patterson said he didn’t join his teammates because he anticipated the screen.
“We kind of knew they were going to pass, because they went into a shotgun formation,” Patterson said. “They ran that little flea-flicker thing, and I read it all the way, and he just kind of lobbed it in the air, and I grabbed it and took off with it.
“I was sitting there thinking, ‘Man, I’m about to fall down, I’m about to fall down.’ But I just kept my head up, I was supposed to sack the quarterback, but I read the flea flicker, and I just took it.”
WCCA head coach David Wright said he knew as soon as Patterson ran it back that his team would be headed to Jackson to compete for the MAIS Class A state championship.
“Hayden Patterson stepping up and paying attention in the classroom, watching film and studying (paid off),” Wright said. “We knew one of their plays was the screen, and even when you think the kids aren’t listening, someone was — thank goodness.”
Though they ended well for the Rams, things started off a little rough, as Newton Academy drove down the field on its opening possession and scored on a 10-yard rush by Thomas Jones at the 3:36 mark in the first. The Generals missed the PAT attempt, giving them an early 6-0 lead.
WCCA was unable to do anything on its first two possessions but finally scored with 4:54 left in the second when quarterback Taylor Prevost connected with Jaylen Washington on a 31-yard touchdown pass. Prevost’s extra-point kick was good, giving WCCA a 14-6 lead.
But the Generals responded with another long drive, capped off with a 4-yard touchdown run by Regan Reiss. Newton failed to convert two points, taking a 12-7 lead with just 26 seconds left before the half.
The Rams, however, decided they didn’t want to go into the half trailing. Wright said he changed some personnel for the ensuing kickoff — and they seemed to pay off, as Washington ran a deep kickoff back 99 yards for a touchdown.
“They’re called the ‘Team Avengers,’ and they came through like superheroes do,” Wright said with a chuckle.
Washington said the play was a huge momentum boost going into the half.
“I stopped my foot on the 1-yard line, and all I saw was a big hole, and I followed my teammates to the end zone,” Washington said. “It felt good. I had to get my team back (ahead). I wanted to win state — I ain’t trying to lose.”
WCCA maintained the momentum in the third quarter, scoring with 9:05 left in the period on a 63-yard run by Austin Goodfellow. Prevost again hit the PAT, and the Rams went ahead 21-12.
With 5:01 left in the third, Newton scored its final touchdown on a 18-yard run by Jones. The Generals were again unable to get the two-point conversion, cutting WCCA’s lead 21-18.
Another defining moment for the game came on the opening play of the fourth quarter. Newton faced a fourth down inside its own 30, and the Generals opted to go for a fake punt. But WCCA sniffed it out, with Lane Ivy tackling the runner for a 7-yard loss.
“Every game they’ve shown a fake punt,” Wright said. “That was one of their biggest plays, and that was a momentum change in every game they’ve played. We worked on it in practice, and they stayed true to their keys.”
The Rams took advantage of the turnover on downs, with Quincy Thompson getting a touchdown run from 25-yards out with 10:17 left in the fourth.
With a South State title in hand, the Rams (12-1) will face Tri-County Academy in the state title game next Friday. Tri-County is undefeated at 13-0 after a 26-10 win against Benton Academy in the North State title game.