Going To Championship

BIG PLAY DEFENSE - Saluda’s defense caused four turnover the second half to allow the  Tigers to come back from a 21-3 third quarter deficit to  upset four-time defending state champion Abbeville, 32-28, at Hite Stadium Friday. The Tigers will play Barnwell for the state  title at the Benedict College stadium in Columbia Fri., Dec. 6, at 5 p.m. (Photo by Trey Fingerlin)


There’s a new dog in town. The Abbeville streak is over!
  Saluda rallied from a 28-17 fourth quarter deficit, and upset unbeaten, top ranked Abbeville, 32-28, Fri., Nov. 29, at Hite Stadium, earning their first trip to the State Championship game since 1963.
  It marked the fourth time in the last five seasons the Tigers and Panthers have met for the Upperstate Championship title. The Panthers prevailed in the previous three games, and were going for a state record fifth straight championship. The old record is safe, thanks to a valiant effort by the Saluda offensive and defensive units.
  Turnovers have plagued the Tigers  in the recent regular season and play-off meetings with Abbeville, and history repeated itself in the first half Friday.
  On the third play of the game, Saluda’s Montrevious Baker fumbled and Abbeville recovered and return the ball to the Saluda one-yard-line.
  Tyrell Hadden scored the touchdown on first and goal,  and Dylan Beauford’s kick gave Abbeville a 7-0 lead.
  On their third possession of the game, the Tigers mounted an impressive march, driving from their own 13 to the Abbeville 35. On first down, however, Noah Bell’s pass was intercepted at the Panther two-yard-line.
  I looked like Abbeville was going to continue its trend of taking advantage of every Saluda mistake, but this time the Tigers stopped the bleeding when Tyleke Mathis blocked Beauford’s field goal attempt, after the 74-yard drive.
 The Tigers got on the board with 4:35 to go in the first half. Adrian Vasquez kicked a 27-yard field goal, ending a 94-yard, 11 play drive. Most of the yardage cane through the air, but Baker added a 23-yard run.
  It appeared the first half would end with the 7-3 score, but Abbeville  reached into its bag of tricks on a third and six play at the Panther 22. The reverse worked to perfection, and Navi Marshall, one of a multitude of Panther speedsters, broke 78-yards for the score. Beauford’s kick made the score 14-7 with just 1:37 to go in the first half.
  A 37-yard return of the opening kick-off of the second half set up the Panther’s next score. J.D. Moore scored on a 10-yard run, ending the 53-yard drive. Beauford upped the lead to 21-3 with 9:14 to go in the third quarter.
  Beauford’s kick-off sailed into the end zone, and then it was time for the Bell & Wright show. Dallan Wright turned Bell’s short pass into an 80-yard touchdown play. Vasquez made the kick and the Tigers were suddenly back in the game with 9:01 to go in the quarter.
  The Panthers committed a rare mistake when Sam Espinoza’s pooch kick was fumbled and recovered by the Tigers at the Abbeville 29. A 15-yard penalty against the Tigers killed the threat and Saluda turned the ball over on downs.
  Abbeville earned one first down after taking over, but after a five-yard penalty against the Panthers, a rare pass was intercepted by Saluda’s Hayden Cherry.
  With the ball at the Panther 38, Mathis gained 11-yards on second down. A five-yard penalty against Abbeville, gave Saluda the ball at the Panther 24, and on first down, Bell and Wright teamed up for the scoring pass. Vasquez cut Abbeville’s lead to 21-17 with 4:32 to go in the quarter.
  On their next possession the Panthers committed their third turnover of the quarter. The fumble was recovered by the Tigers at the Abbeville 32. Saluda got as close as the seven, before a killer penalty forced a Vasquez field goal attempt and it was blocked and  returned to the Panthers 42.
  Another rare Abbeville pass resulted in a 24-yard completion to the Saluda 34 as the fourth quarter began. The Panthers moved to the four where Hadden scored on a run. Beauford gave Abbeville a 28-17 lead with just 8:38 to go in the game.
  Mathis returned the kick-off to the Saluda 35. The Tigers stayed on the ground for all but one play on the 65-yard drive, but that one pass was a big one, 19-yards from Bell to Keenan Brooks on fourth down at the Abbeville 20. Bell would scored two plays later on a run. The Tigers chose to go for two, but were penalized on the first try. After the penalty was walked off, Bell lofted a pass to Wright, who made a spectacular one-hand catch.
  Saluda had cut the lead to 28-25 with 5:34 to go in the game.
  The Tiger defense held the Panthers after the kick-off and forced a punt.
  Saluda took over at the 25. Bell hit Wright for 14-yards on first down, then threw to him for a 47-yard gain to the Abbeville seven-yard-line. Two plays later Bell scored on a one-yard-run, and after Vasquez made the kick Saluda led 32-28 with 2:30 to go in the game.
  Again the Tigers defense roared. After the Tigers sacked the Panther quarterback for a ten-yard loss, Cherry intercepted his second pass of the night, and Saluda got the ball at the Abbeville 36.
  Abbeville had enough time-outs to prevent Saluda from running out the clock, and got the ball back when Bell’s fourth down run fell just short.
  From their 19, the Panthers got one pass completion, but their multi-lateral attempt to score on the last play failed and the Tigers celebrated their semifinal title since defeating Lake View on 1963.
  Bell and Wright continued their record breaking performance.
  Bell passed for 337 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 58 yards and two more scores. Wright had his second straight 200-yard receiving game, on eight catches.
  Since losing their last two games of the season, including a 48-20 loss at Abbeville, the Tigers have averaged 46.3 points a game in the play-offs.
  They have claimed wins over three regions champions, Buford, Southside Christian and Abbeville, who had combined records of 32-4 coming into the games.
  Saluda will take on another region champion, Barnwell, 14-0, in the State Championship game Friday at the Benedict College stadium in downtown Columbia.
  Kick-off is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. The Class A championship featuring another local team, Ridge Spring-Monetta, will follow at 8 p.m.The Trojans will meet Green Sea-Floyds.