COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - What seemed to be more of a heavyweight fight between Abbeville and Batesburg-Leesville early on ended in less than dominant fashion for Perry Woolbright's squad.
Scoring 27 unanswered points while keeping Batesburg-Leesville off the board in the second half, Abbeville defeated Batesburg-Leesville 44-21 to capture their eighth football state championship.
"This never gets old," said Abbeville head coach Jamie Nickles. "What a journey. I think the season lasted 17-18 weeks. To come play one of your old rivals that you know really well, it really felt like a Region III football game for a while. But in the second half, I thought our kids took it up to another level."
Trouble found Batesburg-Leesville (10-5) early in the title tilt. On their first play, Bishop Cannon's pass bounced off his targeted receiver and into the hands of an Abbeville defender for an interception.
However, the Upper State champs weren't able to get into the end zone. Instead, they settled for a Dylan Beauford 27-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead with 9:11 left in the first.
B-L shook off the miscue and took the lead soon after. Using just six plays, the Panthers got on the board and took the lead thanks to Cannon's 17-yard run with 7:01 to go in the first to take a 7-3 lead.
The Lower State champions added to their advantage on their next drive. Following an Abbeville turnover, Tyreek Tolen pushed Batesburg-Leesville ahead with a 27-yard run making it 14-3.
Abbeville (14-0-1) would not be fazed by the double-digit lead. Thanks to two second-quarter rushing touchdowns from Cortney Jackson, Abbeville found themselves back on top 17-14.
Batesburg-Leesville's response came with just under two minutes left in the second half. Again, it was Bishop Cannon leading the charge. The junior quarterback rushed in from three yards out giving B-L a 21-17 lead with 1:45 to go in the half.
"He did a great job," said B-L head coach Perry Woolbright. "He ran the ball hard. He made some big plays in the first half and allowed us to go back and forth. We knew it was going to be a physical game and it definitely turned out to be that. "
But Abbeville wasn't going to go into the locker room without the lead. With 40 seconds left in the half, Jackson provided Abbeville with his third rushing touchdown of the night. This time, he cashed in on a 4-yard run putting the visiting Panthers ahead 24-21.
"My offensive line made holes and I saw the hole, hit it hard, and kept pushing," said Jackson.
Jackson finished the game with 13 carries and 45 yards along with his three scores.
Abbeville would create some separation in the second half. On their first drive in the third quarter, Abbeville marched 65 yards and used 10 plays to get into the end zone. On 4th-and-short on the 1, Jamie Gray snuck in for the touchdown moving Abbeville ahead 31-21 with 7:12 to play in the third.
Abbeville wasn't done. They'd use another 10-play drive to add to their lead. This time, T.J. Rogers came up with the score on the pitch play putting Batesburg-Leesville in a 38-21 hole late in the third.
"The second half, we just couldn't get them off the field," said Woolbright. "When we had our chance on offense, we just couldn't respond each time and, playing against a great team like Abbeville, that's what you've got to be able to do. Every time they hit you with something, you've got to hit them right back and, in the second half, we didn't have the good counterpunch that they had."
Abbeville added one more score for good measure in the fourth quarter -- a 2-yard run by Jermaine Blackwell with 4:11 to go, which would ultimately be the exclamation point on the Panthers' victory.
"They do such a good job attacking on the edge," Woolbright said. "They get multiple formations and stuff like that and outflank you. If one time you don't attack the edge the right way, they're going to be right on you. They've got three great running backs. So, it's tough."
In total, Abbeville ended the night with 293 rushing yards while holding Batesburg-Leesville to a total of 180 yards.
Although this may be the end of the road for the B-L seniors, Woolbright told his players they were still champions.
"I told the kids after the game we might not be state champions, but these kids are champions after all they overcame this year," said Woolbright. "These guys have learned some great lessons over this season and stuff like that. They can take those with them for the rest of their lives. That's the big picture. These kids will grow and be successful in life because of what they went through this season and what they've overcome."