ABBEVILLE — Saluda coach Stewart Young compared his quarterback to David in the exhilarating wake of a shocking Upper State championship win against Goliath-like Abbeville.
“It’s like David vs. Goliath and he’s sort of like David,” Young said, standing in the end zone at Hite Stadium after the game, of Saluda senior Noah Bell.
Bell and Saluda finally took down Abbeville, 32-28, Friday night after several matchups between the teams across the past four seasons. Bell had four second half touchdowns and led a game-winning drive with 3:52 left.
Saluda came back from a 21-3 deficit and forced three turnovers in the second half. The Tigers came out mistake-free in the second half after committing three turnovers and failing to convert from the 6-yard line in the first half.
“Coach Nickles and Abbeville are the standard of 2A and the standard across the state,” Young said. “They won all those games, and why not us? Why can’t we do it? We’ve been putting in work for five years. We’ve had our seasons ended and we’ve been up here a bunch. I said to the seniors, ‘I’m not telling them bye tonight.’ I just won’t do it.”
Bell passed for 344 yards with two rushing touchdowns and two passing touchdowns. Saluda receiver Dallan Wright had nine catches for 207 yards.
The loss for Abbeville ends one of the most dominant runs in state history. The Panthers had won the past four state championships and had not lost a game since 2017. Friday’s loss was Abbeville’s first playoff loss and first home loss since 2014.
“It’s always hard to get over,” Abbeville coach Jamie Nickles said. “This one will sting for a while because I thought we had the upper hand at times and momentum switched. I thought we made a lot of mistakes that we don’t normally do. That’s on me, not the kids. Those mistakes are on me.”
Saluda stopped Abbeville’s signature run game consistently, giving up only one big play in a 78-yard touchdown run by Navi Marshall just before halftime.
The Tigers’ defensive line included many first-year starters. The line was heavily outweighed by Abbeville’s offensive line, which is the strength of the Panthers’ team.
“Heart, baby,” Young said. “It’s all heart. We challenged them to play with heart and they did.”
Abbeville went into halftime up 14-3 after recovering two Saluda fumbles and intercepting Bell on the Panthers’ 1-yard line. Senior JD Moore made the score 21-3 with a 16-yard touchdown run on Abbeville’s first drive of the second half.
On the next drive after Moore’s score, the momentum swung heavily.
Bell hit Wright for an 80-yard touchdown pass, then Abbeville muffed the ensuing kickoff. Saluda recovered and Bell passed to Wright for a 20-yard touchdown to make the score 21-17.
Saluda recovered a fumble to end Abbeville’s next drive. Bell converted a key fourth down by passing to Keenan Brooks. The pass took Saluda from Abbeville’s 30-yard line to the 2-yard line, and Bell punched in the score to make the score 28-25 after an impressive one-handed catch by Wright for the two-point conversion.
“I thought we had our opportunities but what I really thought is that it was such a game of momentum swings,” Nickles said. “Last week we won a game (against Gray Collegiate) like that, and this week here we’re up 21-3 at one point. Boom! One play and it’s 21-10.”
Saluda will meet Barnwell in Friday’s Class 2A state championship. The game will be 5 p.m. at Benedict College.
“They (the players) responded and we made some plays,” Young said. “We got one more stop, though. We’re going to try and win the whole thing.”
Saluda 0 3 14 15 – 32
Abbeville 7 7 7 7 – 28
A – Tyrell Haddon 1 run (Dylan Beauford kick)
S – Adrian Vasquez 27 FG
A – Navi Marshall 78 run (Beauford kick)
A – JD Moore 16 run (Beauford kick)
S – Dallan Wright 80 pass from Noah Bell (Vasquez kick)
S – Wright 20 pass from Bell (Vasquez kick)
A – Haddon 4 run (Beauford kick)
S – Bell 4 run (Wright pass from Bell)
S – Bell 1 run (Vasquez kick)
Rushing – A: Navi Marshall 6-130, Tyrell Haddon 15-83, Cruz Temple 17-70, JD Moore 11-30, Thomas Beauford 2-3. S: Noah Bell 20-75, Montrevious Baker 11-43, Tyleke Mathis 2-21, Dallan Wright 1-1, Jervon Whitt 1-(-4).
Passing – A: Thomas Beauford 2-9-0-47, JD Moore 0-1-0-0. S: Noah Bell 21-29-1-344.
Receiving – A: Navi Marshall 1-24, Jhalyn Shuler 1-23. S: Dallan Wright 9-207, Keenan Brooks 5-66, Zaye Bryant 4-40, Montrevious Baker 3-31.
Records: Abbeville 12-1, Saluda 12-3
Next game: 5 p.m. Friday, Saluda vs. Barnwell at Charles W. Johnson Stadium at Benedict College in Columbia (Class 2A state championship game)