The stage was never bigger for the players that competed in Tuesday night’s 46th annual Scotland County Parks and Recreation “Cotton Bowl.”
The bright lights, cheering fans and big plays that defined the two games played at Legion Field gave local youth a taste of the football glory that may be soon to come if they continue to pursue their goals.
There were winners and losers, to be sure, but the coaches on hand that have seen their players mature over the course of the season hope that the experience will be something to cherish for a lifetime.
“I told my kids after the game to be thankful they had this opportunity,” said Darwin ‘Duke’ Williams, coach of the Midget League champion Saints who bested the Bears 12-7 in a comeback thriller. A former Parks and Rec football player himself, Williams has dedicated himself to passing down the values he learned as a young athlete to children for more than 20 years.
“You got kids out there who can’t walk and play football, so always remember you had the chance to play this game and represent the county in a positive way. We may have won the game but the sun would’ve came up the next day regardless. Some things are bigger than football,” he said.
The hundreds in attendance at Legion Field were treated to an epic clash between the undefeated Saints and a 6-3 Bears team that rebounded in a big way after a rough start to their season.
It would be the Bears that struck first via a 21-yard touchdown run by the team’s workhorse running back Shyheim Lloyd. But after a scoreless first quarter, the Saints finally got rolling and drove the length of the field to set up a 13-yard touchdown scamper for multi-positional offensive player Khalil Smith. The Saints’ extra point attempt would be unsuccessful, however, and the score would be 7-6 in favor of the Bears.
After the Bears’ Syheam McQueen was stopped in the backfield on a fourth down in the closing minutes of the first half, it gave the Saints a short field to work with for a potential scoring drive. A seven yard run from the Saints’ Zamir White gave the team a red zone opportunity, but it faltered after a goal line fumble gave the Bears back possession.
Deep in their own territory, the Bears would opt to protect the football and let the final seconds of the first half tick down. The score would remain 7-6 heading into halftime.
The Saints would open the third quarter on a tear after a 45-yard run by White set up another goal line chance. But the Bears’ defense would come up big when it was most needed, stopping the Saints on four consecutive offensive plays to cause a turnover on downs.
This time, the Bears would be more effective in moving the football from deep in their own territory.
After a 14-yard run from Lloyd, the next play would see McQueen find open space near midfield and turn on the jets for what would’ve been a surefire touchdown. But the Saints’ White would make one of the biggest defensive plays of the game, saving a potentially game-winning score by tripping up McQueen at the last possible second.
The Bears continued pounding the ball down field, but would eventually be stopped on another crucial fourth down to give the Saints offensive possession with less than three minutes on the game clock.
And in those final minutes, the Saints made their championship push.
A crisp pass from Saints’ QB Savon Wall would be hauled in by White, who netted a huge gain to give his team a fresh set of downs inside the Bears’ five-yard line. A play later, it was Smith who scored the deciding touchdown with a two-yard run. Unable to convert the extra point, the Saints would go up 12-7 to set up a final drive for the Bears with less than a minute left.
A fumble would be recovered by the Saints’ Kaleb Locklear to effectively end the game and secure the 9-0 Saints a championship victory.
“I told my team that I was proud of each and every one of them,” said Bears’ coach Billy Brisson after the tough loss his team endured. “They should keep their heads up even after losing because they played a great game. You win some and lose some but you keep on fighting, just like in life.”
Prior to the Midget League Championship Game, a battle between the Eagles and 49ers determined the Minor League champions.
After a first quarter safety, the Eagles’ Nicolas Callahan would score a pair of touchdowns to give his team a 14-0 lead over the Niners. A huge 60-yard touchdown run by the Niners’ Khalib Simmons would occur late in the game, but ultimately it wasn’t enough to help propel his team to a come-from-behind victory.
The Eagles would best the 49ers 14-6.