It simply was not Abbeville's night
Friday, November 30, 2012 8:11 PM
COLUMBIA -- For all the things that went right for Abbeville High School's football team during its past two state championship victories, almost as many things went wrong in Friday's denied bid for a third consecutive crown.
The big passes for first-half touchdowns and dominating runs like what happened in the 2010 final never happened. Neither did a one-man wrecking performance similar to then-running back Ashton Heard's effort from the 2011 title game.
In Friday's 21-0 Class AA, Division II state championship loss against Bishop England at Benedict College's Charlie W. Johnson Stadium, the Panthers never reached the red zone, much less the end zone.
On the night of Abbeville's most important game of the year - one that could have labeled the program a dynasty had it captured its third consecutive state championship - the big plays that define championship wins never happened for the Panthers.
Instead, Abbeville star quarterback Kelly Bryant was nursing a right-shoulder injury in the first half, and wound up getting sacked twice within a matter of minutes late in the game. Just about that time, some Abbeville fans were seen searching for an exit.
Going into the title game, the Panthers' A-Bone offense averaged 315 yards per game. But on Friday, the Panthers were limited to 153 yards rushing and 29 passing. For all the times Abbeville tried to use its speed to get outside, a Bishops defender was there to meet them.
Instead of a Panther making a jarring hit, there were jolting ones, made in particular by Bishop England's DeAngelo Stephenson and Nick Shiver.
In a state championship game, it all comes down to who is able to make the big plays at the most crucial moments. And the Bishops established the mindset they were ready with a halfback touchdown pass from Nick Theos that completely caught the Panthers off guard.
"We didn't come out well at first, but you've got to give credit to Bishop England," Bryant said. "They came out and played ball. It's tough right now. But like I said, (Bishop England) came out and played ball."
But Bryant is just a sophomore. He has one state championship ring and has chances at two more. For seniors like defensive back Josh Martin, all they could do was look toward midfield and wonder what could have been.
"It was just one of those nights when they were more ready than we were," Martin said.
Underneath a bright full moon, with dark clouds slowly passing by it, Abbeville coach Jamie Nickles put Friday's loss in perspective. Although the Panthers lost a state championship game, they won the previous two in Class A, Division I.
And just before Nickles joined seniors Kennan Gilchrist and Dillon Holliday to accept the state runner-up trophy, he reminded his team how magical this season was.
"I always said we're taking home a trophy," Nickles told the team. "We're going to celebrate this season one way or another. I'm proud of each and every one of you."
Down the road, a lot of this year's players will be looking back on at least one state championship ring, maybe two. Count Martin as one of those who will remember the good times.
"It was great playing Abbeville football," Martin said. "It's just something I'll miss."
Chancey is sports editor at the Index-Journal. Contact him at 223-1813; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @IJSCOTTCHANCEY . Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper's opinion.