FLORENCE, S.C. – If there’s one thing Wilson coach Derek Howard knows about his Tigers, it’s their ability to use big plays to spark even bigger performances.
It could be on offense. It could be on defense.
On this occasion, during Wilson's 26-7 victory Friday night, the Tigers' defense delivered that big play while leading 12-0 over South Florence late in the third quarter.
Bruins quarterback LaNorris Sellers found the opportunity for a fade pattern into the end zone to teammate Jabray Johnson. His pass did not fade enough, however, and the Tigers’ Andriq Williams was there to intercept it in the end zone.
“That was just a big play by (Williams)," Howard said. "The defense had been playing well all night, and I think offensively we got more into it in the second half.”
What ensued were consecutive Tiger touchdown drives that put the game away at Memorial Stadium. Leave it to Wilson quarterback Zayshaun Rice to take care of that as his first TD pass – early in the fourth quarter – was a screen pass to Harrison Muldrow, who then zipped down the right sideline 62 yards and into the end zone.
After South Florence failed to convert on fourth down, Rice directed a 32-yard TD drive – 27 yards of which came on the touchdown pass to Nyrae Sanders to make it 26-0.
Rice finished with 255 passing yards, and Muldrow accounted for 137 of those on five catches.
“We’re a team that thrives on making the big plays," Howard said. "That’s when we get our energy. When we get a big play like that, that gives us energy on both sides of the ball.”
The Tigers, who thrived on a prolific passing game the previous two seasons, showed flashes of that during the second half. And it helped for Wilson to have Muldrow, who had missed the previous two games because of a concussion.
With that in mind, Howard is optimistic his offense can continue to improve.
“We’re a passing offense, but when you don’t have spring football or 7-on-7 and all that, that’s kind of hard to develop brand new receivers,” Howard said. “So, we’re coaching.”
Wilson’s offense failed to take advantage of opportunities in the first half. A second-quarter rushing TD by Rice was negated because of a penalty. But the one factor that occasionally helped Wilson before halftime was also the one thing prevalent after it. The Tigers took advantage of Bruin mistakes.
Trailing 7-0 in the second quarter, South Florence’s long snap deep in its territory to Sellers (also the punter) went over his head and through the back of the end zone for a safety.
Then, in the third quarter, on fourth down, another snap over Sellers’ head as he was attempting to punt resulted in a 34-yard field goal by the Tigers’ Vraj Patel that gave Wilson its 12-0 lead.
Perhaps the Tigers’ most impressive drive was its first, as Rice directed a 93-yard drive that ended with a 34-yard touchdown run on fourth down by Chris Austin (103 yards for the night on 15 carries).
But while Wilson’s offense struggled for the rest of the first half, so did South Florence’s.
“We’ve got to have guys step up and make big plays,” said Bruins coach Drew Marlowe, whose team was led by Sellers’ 175 passing yards and a 30-yard TD run.
Teammate Evin Singletary, meanwhile, caught five of Sellers’ passes for 118 yards.
“We’re in position to make a lot of them, and we don’t make the big plays when we have to. Tonight, (Wilson) just made more big plays than we did.”
Perhaps the biggest was that Wilson interception in the end zone.
“We had a little something going, but that was just one we missed on,” Marlowe said. “That was big because it was at a critical time. But, we’re still a team learning how to win and learning how to do things in big moments. And, we’re just not there yet.”
W 7 2 3 14 − 26
SF 0 0 0 7 − 7
W – Chris Austin 34 run (Vraj Patel kick), 2:03
W – Safety (snap through end zone), 9:00
W – Patel 34 FG, 6:37
W – Harrison Muldrow 62 pass from Zayshaun Rice (Patel kick), 10:47
W − Nyrae Sanders 27 pass from Rice (Patel kick), 5:24
SF – LaNorris Sellers 30 run (Grant McDonald kick), 4:49
RUSHING − W: Chris Austin 15-103, Rice 17-51, Taveon Johnson 2-7, Rondell Law 2-14, Zandae Butler 1-14. SF: Sellers 16-53, Ty'Quavon Martin 7-20, Dy'Quavyon Dickens 1-3, Shikeem Shilow 2-1.
PASSING − W: Rice 16-28-0-255; Butler 0-1-1-0. SF: Sellers 9-28-0-175.
RECEIVING − W: Austin 1-6, Andriq Williams 2-4, Donnell Williamson 6-61, Harrison Muldrow 5-137, Nyrae Sanders 2-47. SF: Evin Singletary 5-118, Jylyn McPherson 1-17, Jabray Johnson 2-25, Martin 1-15.