FLORENCE, S.C. -- The Wilson Tigers celebrated their first on-campus football game in grand style Friday night, winning 30-14 over Lower Richland.
Wilson athletic director Derrick McQueen estimated the crowd between 1,200 and 1,500. And many more would have likely showed up if it were not for heavy rain and frequent lightning beforehand.
“I feel good about it,” McQueen said. “I think it went well, better than what many people expected. Although the rain may have had something to do with some people not coming, it was still a good crowd and an excellent atmosphere.”
Wilson football coach Derek Howard could not agree more.
“Obviously it feels good to protect home,” said Howard, whose team improved to 4-0. “That’s a special moment for these kids to be able to experience a win on campus and for the community to experience that.
“We know what home field advantage would feel like if we actually had our own stadium, and it’s good to show that hopefully in the future that’s what we’ll end up with.”
On the field, Friday’s atmosphere became especially electric after Lower Richland got within 9-8 on a blocked punt return for a touchdown and two-point conversion.
That’s when Wilson dug deep and began to pull away.
Tigers quarterback Zayshaun Rice had a lot to do with that. After accounting for Wilson’s first TD, he connected with Timothy Robinson Jr. for a long scoring pass immediately after the Diamond Hornets’ score.
That, followed by Kalib Jones’ two-point run did more than stretch Wilson’s lead to 17-8. It set the tone for the rest of the game.
“Bad things happen, but it’s about how we respond,” Howard said. “When something bad happens to you, you’ve just got to move past it and keep going. I’m impressed, not surprised that he kids are responding well to adversity. It’s easy when things are going good. But when it’s bad, you can pout and just kind of duck your head. But I’m not seeing that from our players.
“From this group I’m hearing, ‘Hey guys, we’ll get it back,’ and ‘Hey, it’s all right, we’ll get them the next play,’” he added. “If you’re hearing that, with me knowing the caliber of kids we have, I think we’ll always be in the game and always have the opportunity to come back if something bad happens.”
By game’s end, Rice also completed touchdown passes to DeMarcus Bailey and Ja’Travious Sherrills to increase the Tigers’ lead to 30-8.
“He’s just kind of doing what he does,” Howard said of Rice. “He’s just a special kid and I’m never surprised by what he does. We’re lucky to have him on our team and he brings the best out of everybody.”
Howard also liked how Rice spread the ball around in scoring situations. But he also thinks that’s a product of the Tigers’ depth at receiver.
“The kids are hungry and each wants his opportunities,” Howard said. “It’s difficult sometimes to provide kids with the opportunities they deserve when you have a lot of talented kids.
“But that same hunger to make the most of their opportunities is what helps them make big plays when the opportunities come their way,” he added. “They know they are going to get only so many touches per game.”
Then, Howard and the rest of his team walked toward the Tigers’ locker room.
Not to a bus that would normally take the team and band from their normal home of Memorial Stadium back to campus.
This was different. It was exciting.
But most importantly, in the Tigers’ eyes, it was a win.
“You always get excited about a win,” McQueen said. “Obviously, coach Howard came in with a really good game plan and the kids executed it and the players played hard and made plays.
“Whether we won by one or by 20, we’re always excited about a win at Wilson.”