Red Devils Fall

GOOD START -  Saluda senior Zion Wright got the first round playoff game with Liberty off to a good start when he returned the game’s opening kick-off all the way for a touchdown. (SHS photos by Dean Roesner)

Tigers Crush
Liberty 43-7

  Saluda sophomore quarterback Drew Arant threw five touchdowns passes in the first half, leading the Tigers to a 43-7 home win over Liberty, Fri., Nov 4, in the first round of the 2A state playoffs.

  Arant’s performance was just one off the school record of six touchdowns thrown by Noah Bell in 2019 against RSM. He joins  Bell and Ryan Nichols for the second most passing touchdowns in a game with his five.
  The game began well for Saluda. Someone must have had a premonition when the Tigers won the toss and elected to receive, rather than defer to the second half.
  Senior Zion Wright took the opening kick-off at the 35 and sped down the sideline for a 65-yard touchdown return, bringing back memories of his brother, Dallan, one of the top return men on the 2019 state championship team. KenMane Brunson ran the two-point conversion out of the bucket formation, and Saluda led 8-0 with just 12 seconds gone in the game.
  On their next possession, the Tigers got a 27-yard touchdown run out of Tyleke Mathis, but Saluda’s “kill ourselves” trait came back, and the score was called back on a holding penalty. A sack of Arant after the walk-off led to a 25-yard punt by Sam Espinoza to the Liberty 15-yard-line.
  The Tiger defense pushed the Red Devils backwards on two runs, and an incomplete pass set-up a 22-yard punt to the Liberty 35. On second down, Arant hit Mathis for a 27-yard, flag free scoring pass. Espinoza’s kick upped Saluda’s lead to 15-0 with 2:43 to go in the opening quarter.
  On Saluda’s next possession, Brayden Williams scored on a 22-yard run, but to the surprise of no one, the touchdown was called   back due to a penalty. After the walk-off, on the last play of the quarter, Arant hit Jamarcus Mobley on a 28-yard pass to the Liberty one-yard line.
  On the opening play of the second quarter, Arant scored. Unfortunately, it became the 14th Saluda touchdown called back this season.
  This time the Tigers scored despite the callbacks. Arant threw to Wright, who used his height to bring down a 19-yard scoring pass. Espinoza’s kick made the score 22-0 with 11:40 to go in the first half.
  After Espinoza’s kick to the end zone, Liberty drove from the 20 to the 50, but a bad snap on a punt, led to a minus three-yard punt.
  On first down, Arant and Mathis connected for a 47-yard scoring pass. Espinoza’s kick made it 29-0 with 8:02 to go.
  The Red Devils had another 30-yard march after Espinoza’s end zone kick-off. A 19-yard punt gave the Tigers the ball at their own 30. The Tigers mixed the run and he pass to march the distance for the score, which came with a 29-yard pass from Arant to Mobley. Espinoza’s kick was good and Saluda led 36-0 with 1:12 left.
  Espinoza’s kick-off sailed into the end zone again, and on first down at the 20, Liberty’s fumble was recovered by Saluda’s JT Lott at the Red Devil 15. On first down, Arant threw to the corner of the end zone, and Mathis hauled it in for the score. Espinoza ended the first half scoring at 43-0 with his kick.
  The halftime score brought the 42-point rule into effect. The clock ran continuously in the second half, only pausing for timeouts, injuries and scores.
  With the exception of Arant, Tiger reserves played the entire second half. Saluda’s offense had the  ball for only eight plays in the second half. All the offensive plays were runs, which totaled minus eight yards.
  Liberty got the opening kick-off of the second half and marched 75-yards for their only score of the game. Seth Terry scored the touchdown on a two yard run. Mason Davis completed the game’s scoring at 43-7 with 3:10 to go in the third quarter.
  Arant hit 11 of 13 passes for 203-yards, and the five scoring passes, the best game of his young career as a starter. Mathis caught three passes for three touchdowns.
  Mathis led the rushing, with 46-yards on five carries.
  The Tigers, 9-2, advance to second round, when they travel to Chapin to meet defending state champion Gray Collegiate. The War Eagles defeated Fox Creek 54-0 Friday.
  Kick-off is at 7:30 p.m.