Sandy Creek and Fayette County battled on the Tigers home field in the last game of the regular season. The Patriots came out on top with a 23-8 win, but the Tigers got good news as Woodward beat Carrollton, clearing the way for a Fayette berth in the playoffs.
This was a hard fought, back and forth game that showed the strengths of each teams’ defenses.
The first play of the game was earshattering for anyone (this reporter, for example) standing on the Fayette sideline.
JeTorren Snellings had an overthrown Sandy Creek pass drop in his hands, and returned it 30 yards to the end zone to give his team the early lead. Fayette capitalized on the incredible emotion of the moment as the fans erupted, faking an extra point and converting for two as Makenzie Stills dropped a pass over the shoulder of Brandon Garland, who adjusted beautifully and hauled it down to give his team an early 8-0 lead.
Sandy Creek doesn’t often find themselves down 8-0 after 15 seconds, and they responded appropriately. Set up with good field position, star running back Eric Swinney made the Tigers pay.
Swinney started off the left guard for a run that might have been a modest gain for a less talented runner. By the end of it, he’d juked virtually every Fayette linebacker and defensive back in his way and streaked to the right corner of the endzone for a 55-yard touchdown, narrowing the gap to 8-7 in Fayette’s favor.
The early fireworks in this one wouldn’t characterize the rest of the game. This was a defensive battle in which both offenses struggled to gain ground.
Sandy Creek, a team that has thrived on offense for years, has found itself struggling to produce at times this year. The dynamic pass attack has waned, and, while Swinney put up great total numbers in this game, he spent much of it seeking room to run.
“We’ve just got to execute better. Some of that credit goes to Fayette County. We’ve just got to do a better job of executing,” said Sandy Creek Head Coach Chip Walker.
Swinney put up impressive numbers in the game, rushing for 186 yards total. Most of those yards came on a few plays, however, as most of the time Fayette County forced Sandy Creek to grind it out on offense.
Sandy Creek’s Arnol Spaniol was key for the Patriots, notching 11 of their 23 points on three field goals and two extra points. Spaniol’s only miss would come on a nearly 50-yard attempt in the third quarter.
Spaniol got his first chance early in the second quarter, knocking in a 28-yard field goal with ease to make it 10-8 Sandy Creek.
He would score again soon. Fayette got the ball back and attempted a pass to Desmond Fletcher, who had it knocked loose on contact. It was unclear whether Fletcher had possession, but the referees ruled it a catch and fumble and Sandy Creek found themselves in good field position.
The Patriots couldn’t get a first down following the fumble, and set Spaniol up with a 38-yard field goal which he promptly nailed, stretching the lead to 13-8.
Fayette’s Robert Easterwood turned in one of the plays of the game on the ensuing kickoff return, showing his speed and absolutely shaking a defender to the ground as he returned it to midfield. Sandy Creek’s defense held strong though, and forced a punt.
The third quarter would be a back and forth battle. Sandy Creek capped off the quarter by driving down into Tiger territory, setting Spaniol up for a 37-yard field goal to make it 16-8 to end the quarter.
Swinney would pound it in again on a one-yard run in the fourth quarter to make the final score 23-8.
Fayette showed impressive defensive intensity in the game, including a number of big time hits from players including Tyler Brown and Sean Ancrum. Ancrum led the defense with 15 tackles, followed by Brown and Zach Gongola with 14. Sean Harper tallied 12, James Hawkins nine, and Conranta Cody picked up six, including four for loss.
Running back Montrell Kelley also played a very tough game and showed his shiftiness on some impressive runs.
Sandy Creek’s Coach Walker knew after the game that his offense has the most improving to do in the week leading up to the playoffs.
The Patriots only went to the air 15 times and converted on six. Many of those passes were directed to Korey Banks, who hauled down three catches for 65 yards.
“We’re as good defensively as anybody. We’ve just got to go play, execute, and take care of business,” Walker said.
For Fayette County, they’re proud to be back in the postseason for the first time since 2007. It’s the product of hard work and dedication, according to head coach Mike Davis.
“God is so good. Making the playoffs is an awesome feeling because the kids and the coaching staff have worked so hard to be a complete program,” said Davis. “We try to build our kids from the inside out, working hard on encouraging them to be young men that respect authority, elders, and women. The football is a by product of doing what is right. We feel truly blessed to have this opportunity.”
It was a tough road to get here, but Davis said it made them the team they are, and they’re eager to keep going.
“We have always believed that to prepare for the playoffs you have to be battle tested and that we are. Six of the teams we played this year are in the playoffs,” Davis said. “St Pius is a seasoned team with a lot of history that has made the playoffs many times before. They are a well coached team. Our goal is to play hard and mistake free.”