From the early stages of the 2022 season, South Florence and A.C. Flora seemed destined to be playing in the Class 4A Lower State championship game.
It turned out that way and the anticipation of the showdown of unbeaten teams didn’t disappoint as it came down to which team flinched first. That happened to be the Falcons and South Florence rode the 5-touchdown, 230-yard rushing performance from quarterback LaNorris Sellers to claim a 43-27 victory Friday night at a packed Memorial Stadium.
It puts the Bruins in the program’s first-ever state championship contest. South Florence will play Northwestern next Saturday evening at 7 p.m. at Benedict’s Charlie W. Johnson Stadium.
A.C. Flora ends coach Ken Floyd’s first season with a 13-1 mark and a foundation to build on going forward.
“It was a foundational year for me as a head coach in my first year,” Floyd said. “I just love those guys and want them to know that they are leaving this program in good hands. I’m appreciative of them and the future is bright at AC Flora. We are going to continue to be a dominant program.
The two teams were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 respectively since the end of September and they played that way most of the night. The Falcons trimmed the deficit to 28-27 on Markel Townsend’s fourth TD of the night – a 1-yard plunge with 1:58 remaining in the third quarter.
At that point, the only time either offense had been stopped was at the end of the first half. A.C. Flora punted with less than 15 seconds remaining and South Florence took a knee to end the half.
It looked like the Falcons had taken the momentum when they stopped the Bruins (14-0) on a fourth down from their 16-yard line. But three plays netted two yards and A.C. Flora punted it back to South Florence at their own 47-yard line.
That’s when Norris, a Syracuse verbal commitment, took things into his own hands. Norris accounted for 50 of the 53 yards on the drive and scampered in from 17 yards out with 8:41 remaining. Norris made it a 36-27 lead when he easily scored on the two-point conversion try.
The Falcons responded before turning it over on downs when a Carew Bates to Jack Purdy pass play came up a yard short on a fourth-and-9 play.
Norris and the Bruins responded with the final dagger at that point. Norris had runs of 19 and 35 yards early in the draft before capping it off with his fifth TD of the game, this one from 13 yards out.
“That kid is really special,” AC Flora coach Ken Floyd said. “When it came down to it and they needed a yard or 10 yards or whatever it was, he made it happen. He was the difference-maker, no doubt.”
“I think we stopped them one time the entire night. Hats off to our defense – that is just a tough out. That is a good unit (offensive) unit over there, and with Sellers as an X factor, it makes things really tough.”
Norris typically beats teams with his arm, but he was held in check in the passing game – finishing 11-of-17 for 140 yards. But he thought the Falcons defense was open to him being able to run more than usual.
The first half was set at a blistering pace, with Markel Townsend doing his best to keep A.C. Flora in it. The senior running back capped his high school career with 155 yards rushing and four touchdowns. He scored on runs of 3, 12 and 2 yards on the first three Falcon possessions.
Shikeem Shilow, who finished with 95 yards on 20 carries, scored the Bruins first touchdown on a 5-yard run. Norris added TD runs of 5 and 38 yards to send the teams into the half tied at 21.
South Florence opened the second half with a nine-play, 65-yard drive that ended with a 4-yard scoring run from Norris. Townsend responded with this late third quarter TD to set the stage of the final 15-point barrage by the Bruins.
“LaNorris Sellars is the best player in the state,” South Florence coach Drew Marlowe said. “If he doesn’t win Mr. Football, you better get rid of the award because it is garbage. He made some critical throws and runs and played great.”
Dutch Fork 51, Gaffney 28
Aliam Applier threw three touchdown passes and ran for two others and Jarvis Green had touchdowns rushing, receiving and special teams to put Dutch Fork in its 10th state final in the last 11 years.
Dutch Fork will play Fort Dorchester Saturday, Dec 3 at noon for the Class 5A state title.
It was a revenge game for the Silver Foxes. The Indians ended their streak of six straight state championships last season when they rallied from a 22-9 fourth quarter deficit to claim a 22-19 in the state title game.
Dutch Fork coach Tom Knotts was 0-2 in his career against Gaffney with both losses coming in state championship games (2012 and 2021). Knotts is now 10-0 in state semifinal games.
“They straightened out that mess that happened last year and showed them what Dutch Fork football is all about,” Knotts told reporters after the game Friday. “I’m just real proud of all of them.”
Applier scored on runs of 15 and 18 yards and threw TD passes of 39, 16 and 23 yards. Green continued his stellar play in the postseason with 182 yards rushing, a 39-yard TD reception, an 80-yard kickoff return, and an 8-yard rushing touchdown. Green had 322 all-purpose yards.
Dutch Fork (13-1) finished with 459 yards of total offense. Ja’Von Mack and Landon Danley each had interceptions for the Silver Foxes defense. Jaylen Hinton was the leading tackler with 11 total stops. Gaffney got 410 yards passing from Grayson Loftis but the running game was held to 32 yards on 17 attempts. Loftis threw four touchdown passes.
Abbeville 41, Saluda 16
Abbeville scored the game’s final 35 points to send the Panthers back to the state championship.
Abbeville will play Oceanside Collegiate Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. at Benedict’s Charlie W. Johnson Stadium.
Zay Rayford and Altavious Patterson each scored two rushing touchdowns and Demarcus Leach returned an interception for a score. Abbeville finished with 392 yards rushing with Patterson and Rayford going for 144 and 120 yards respectively.
Saluda (11-3) had taken a 16-6 lead on the strength of a 40-yard field goal from Sam Espinoza, a 3-yard Jonah McCary scoring run and a 33-yard pass from McCary to Jamarcus Mobley. But the Tigers couldn’t muster any offense after that in the second half.
Dutch Fork 51, Gaffney 28
Fort Dorchester 24, Summerville 10
Northwestern 33, Greenville 28
South Florence 43, AC Flora 27
Powdersville 27, Clinton 14
Beaufort 30, Dillon 21
Abbeville 41, Saluda 16
Oceanside Collegiate 49, Andrew Jackson 13
Christ Church 21, St. Joseph’s 7
Johnsonville 20, Cross 6
State Championship Schedule (Midlands Games in Bold)
All Games will be played at Benedict College’s Charlie W. Johnson Stadium. Tickets are $15.
Thursday, Dec. 1
Powdersville vs Beaufort, 7 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 2
Abbeville vs Oceanside Collegiate, 2 p.m.
Christ Church vs Johnsonville, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 3
Dutch Fork vs Fort Dorchester, Noon
Northwestern vs South Florence, 7 p.m.