COLUMBIA, S.C. – Pee Dee Academy football coach Jonathan King shrugged his shoulders while talking about Thomas Heyward’s 35-31 last-second victory over his Eagles on Saturday in the SCISA Class A state championship game.
The Rebels scored with 5.4 seconds on a touchdown pass from quarterback Jake Masters to Bruzza Pusha to account for the final score at Charlie W. Johnson Stadium.
But King also talked about a Rebel play just as big that was on fourth-and-8 from the PDA 29 on that same game-clinching drive. It was the rabbit out of a hat the Eagles were not expecting: A halfback pass attempt from running back Trey Pusha to none other than Pusha. The pass was incomplete, but the Eagles’ Caleb Oakley was flagged for pass interference.
The ball was moved to the 14, good enough for a first down, and the Rebels were on their way to the victory.
“They got us. What can you say?” King said of the halfback pass. “They got us. They had to make a play, we had to make a play. They made it, and we didn’t. It was a great call, and they executed. What can you say but great job? They got us.”
The Eagles, who were searching for their first 11-man state title, will have to wait another year.
After rallying from a 28-14 deficit to lead 31-28, however, this loss was tough for Pee Dee Academy to take. It was even harder, considering they led 14-0 and had a chance to make it 21-0.
But they turned it over on downs, and the Rebels narrowed it to 14-7 at halftime.
Then, Thomas Heyward running back Bobby Payne came to life with three touchdowns during a span of fewer than six minutes in the third quarter to make it 28-14. He finished with 238 yards rushing.
“He’s just so good,” King said. “He’s such a good player. He was the one on film who stands out.”
But PDA quarterback Jake Lane threw a 29-yard touchdown pass to Jason Norton, and the Eagles stopped Payne on fourth-and-short on the next series.
Although the Eagles turned it over on downs after reaching the Rebels’ 9, it kept Thomas Heyward deep in its territory. On fourth down, the snap went over the punter’s head and through the end zone for a safety to move PDA within 28-23.
After the free kick, Lane found Norton again for a TD and the two-point conversion to give their team a 31-28 advantage. Lane finished with 221 passing yards and the two TD passes to Norton. Norton, meanwhile, finished with 106 yards rushing and 92 more receiving and three total touchdowns.
“He was huge,” King said. “He’s a weapon on offense. He’s a huge weapon running the ball. There in the second half, we got on his back running the ball and him catching the ball out of the backfield.”
But it wasn't enough.
In the team’s final postgame huddle, King told them what that the players meant to him.
“I told them I love them,” said King, whose team finishes the year 9-2. “Best of my recollection, this is the first senior class to get to back-to-back state final appearances since 1990 and ’91 (in eight-man football). That says a lot about them. They worked hard to help us get back here.”
PDA’s Connor Gasque caught two passes for 71 yards, Danny Barker made 13 tackles, and Ryan Forney made 12 tackles and recovered a fumble.
Pee Dee Academy 7 7 7 10 -- 31
Thomas Heyward 0 7 21 7 -- 35
PDA -- Jason Norton 10 run (Kyle Zeman kick), 3:36
PDA -- Jake Lane 7 run (Zeman kick), 10:39
TH -- River Pender fumble recovery in end zone (C.J. Cleland kick), 1:17
TH -- Bobby Payne 45 run (Cleland kick), 9:33
TH -- Payne 80 run (Cleland kick), 7:02
TH -- Payne 23 run (Cleland kick), 3:41
PDA -- Norton 29 pass from Lane (Zeman kick), 1:58
PDA -- Safety, Snap over punter's head and through end zone, 7:08
PDA -- Norton 33 pass from Lane (North pass from Lane), 6:01
TH -- Bruzza Pusha 3 pass from Jake Masters (Cleland kick), :5.4