Tigers Win 39-15

CONVERGING - Saluda defenders Jamarcus Mobley (3), Harrison Herlong (44), Zy Gray (52) and Tyleke Mathis (2) team up to bring down Ninety Six quarterback Braden Mitchell in the Tigers’ 39-15 win over the Wildcats Fri.,  Sept. 2. (SHS photo by Dean Roesner)

Tigers Overcome

Ninety Six Scare

  After a closely contested first half, top ranked Saluda scored 17 points in the third quarter and went on to defeat Ninety Six 39-15 Fri., Sept. 2, at Wilson-Campbell Stadium.
  After successive blowout wins, with the starters only playing the first half, the Tigers needed to be challenged, and the Wildcats did just that, controlling the clock in the first half to keep the ball away from the quick-strike Saluda offense.
  It looked like Saluda would follow the pattern of the first two games by scoring early. A bad snap on a Wildcat punt, gave the Tigers the ball at the Ninety Six 36-yard line.
  Running back Brayden Williams lost a yard on first down, but on the next play quarterback Jonah McCary connected with Tyleke Mathis for a 37-yard touchdown pass. From the bucket conversion formation Mathis ran it in giving Saluda a 8-0 lead with 9:52 to go in the first quarter.
  Ninety Six started on their 31 after the kick-off and drove all the way to the Saluda seven-yard-line, where on third down quarterback Braden Mitchell was sacked for a 13-yard-loss by JT Lott. An trick play option pass on fourth down was incomplete.
  On first down, Mitchell broke a 32-yard run to the Ninety Six 48, but on the next play, McCary’s pass was picked off near the goal line.
  Saluda finished the first quarter running only four plays.
  An interception by Saluda’s Jamarcus Mobley early in the second quarter set-up Saluda second score. Starting at the Wildcat 38, Saluda effectively mixed the run and pass to march 62-yards in five plays. A 33-yard pass from McCary to Zion Wright to the Ninety Six one was the key. KenMane Brunson scored on the next play. Sam Espinoza’s kick gave Saluda a 15-0 lead with 7:48 to go in the half.
  As time was running out, Ninety Six moved 68-yards, aided by 20-yards in penalties against the Tigers. On fourth down, with just 14.7 seconds to go, Mitchell threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to the front corner of the end zone, then completed a pass for the two-point play, making the halftime score 15-8.
  The key to the game came down to what the Tigers would do to break Ninety Six momentum when they got the second half kick-off. Like RSM the week before, Ninety Six was determined to take away Saluda’s passing game, and like the week  before, the Tigers showed they could run the ball, too.
  Starting from their own 32 after the kick-off, the Tigers called on Williams on three straight runs, and he gained 31-yards. Brunson spelled him and gained 20-yards on two straight carries. Williams returned to the game and scored on a 16-yard run to give the Tigers some much needed breathing room.. Espinoza upped Saluda’s lead to 22-8 with 9:35 to go in the third quarter.
   The Wildcats moved to their 44 on their next possession before having to punt. Mathis showed why he is one of the best return men around, when he fielded the punt and returned it 74-yards to the Ninety Six 16-yard line. Williams scored on first down, but the Tigers were flagged for holding, setting the ball back to the 25.  
  It didn’t matter,  because on first and 20, Williams ran 24-yards to the Wildcat one. McCary score from there on second down. Espinoza’s kick made with 29-8 with 2:41 left in the quarter.
  Espinoza’s kick almost sailed through the uprights, and one first down from the 20, Mitchell’s pass was intercepted by Saluda sophomore defensive  back Jaylen Nick and returned to the Wildcat three-yard-line.
  The Ninety Six line held and Espinoza came on to kick a 20-yard field goal with 39.9 second go in the quarter, upping Saluda’s lead to 32-8.
  On Ninety Six’ first series of the fourth quarter, Mobley intercepted his second pass of the night, giving Saluda the ball at the Tiger 48. The 52-yard drive was covered in seven plays, the touchdown coming on a three yard run by McCary. Espinoza completed Saluda’s scoring at 39 points with 7:54 to go in the game.
  Espinoza had kept Ninety Six’s good return men at bay by end zone and pooch kicks, but his kick-off after the score was returnable, and the Wildcat return man did just that, bringing the ball  back 50-yards to the Saluda 30. On second down, Mitchell connected with Dreydan Daniel over the middle for a 30-yard touchdown pass. The Wildcats’ female kicker Aubrey Middleton made the kick with 6:54 to go making the score 39-15.
  Saluda was not interested in running up the score. The Tigers got as close as the Wildcat 24 after the kick-off, before quarterback McCary and his replacement Drew Arant began taking a knee.
  The Tigers passed their first test after being ranked number one. The last time Saluda was ranked number one, 1980, they lost their third game to Strom Thurmond.
  The freshman Williams continued his outstanding play at running back, gaining 147-yards on 14 trips. In his first three games, Williams has averaged 9.7 yards a carry.
  McCary completed seven of 12 passes for 115 yards and one score, to go with his  two rushing touchdown. Wright led with receiving with three catches.
  Friday will be the battle of the unbeatens as the 3-0 Tigers travel to Greenwood to take on the 2-0, 3A Vikings. Emerald has wins over Ninety Six, 35-28, and Ware Shoals, 49-0.
  Kick-off is at 7:30 p.m.