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Abbeville returns to the top of Class AA with 37-6 win over Marion

By David Shelton

Senior Writer

Columbia – The 2020 football season was all about the “A” in Class AA football.

Abbeville won their fifth state title in the last six years, defeating Marion, 37-6, in the delayed AA title game on Dec. 18 at Benedict College’s Charles Johnson Stadium.

The game was delayed two weeks after a positive Covid-19 test in the Marion program three days prior to the scheduled championship game on Dec. 4.

Abbeville finishes the 2020 season with an 11-0 record while Marion finishes at 9-2. Abbeville has won seven state titles since 2010.

The game, at times, was a little sloppy but the effort by both teams was certainly evident.

“You have to give Marion some credit. We saw on film they had an outstanding football team and they came out ready to play,” Abbeville head coach Jamie Nickles said. “Both teams made some mistakes that characteristically we might not have done. But hey, we did it. These kids are state champs and I am on vacation.

“It’s so rewarding. Anytime you see a group of kids pull together and accomplish great things, it makes you feel proud. Proud of the effort they put in day in and day out. I cannot thank them enough for their effort and tonight you are seeing the reward for that effort.”

Abbeville scored two defensive touchdowns on fumble returns, recovered another fumble inside the Marion 10-yard line, and returned a kickoff for a score.

Marion looked like a team that had been limited to two practices during the week leading up to the game. The Swamp Foxes lost four fumbles and threw an interception in the game and finished with only 99 yards in offense.

“We talked all week about not beating ourselves and we came out and beat ourselves,” Marion head coach Randall State said. “It’s unfortunate but you can’t make those kind of mistakes against a six-time, seven-time state champion. If you do, you’re gonna lose.”

The Panthers totaled 299 yards. Abbeville rushed for 214 yards, led by Tyrell Haddon’s 94 yards on 11 carries. Navi Marshall added 37 yards rushing and caught two passes for 47 yards, Quarterback Thomas Beauford completed four of six passes for 85 yards.

The game began with an exchange of punts. Marion was set to punt a second time when disaster struck. The snap was fumbled and Abbeville recovered at the Marion 36-yard line.

Marion’s defense forced a third-and-nine when Beauford lofted a 35-yard touchdown pass to Marshall, who caught the ball after it was tipped by a Marion defender.

The early nightmare continued for Marion. On their second offensive snap, an option pitch hit the ground and Abbeville’s DaMarquise Jackson scooped up the loose ball and rumbled 12 yards for a touchdown for a 13-0 lead with 2:22 left in the first quarter.

Believe it or not, things got worse for Marion. On the first play of the next possession, a high snap resulted in a 23-yard loss to the eight-yard line. On the next snap, Marion fumbled and Abbeville’s Mykal Tinch recovered on the Marion seven. One play later, Abbeville took a 19-0 lead on Martico Jackson’s seven-yard run with 1:16 left in the period.

“I lost my grandmother this year so I know she was looking down on me tonight and she’s very proud,” said Jackson, who finished the game with 47 yards rushing and a 36-yard reception.

Things settled down a bit for Marion in the second quarter, however, the Panthers capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive with Addison Nickles’ 29-yard field goal with 7:05 remaining in the half.

Marion was able to put their best drive of the game together late in the half, covering 56 yards on 13 plays with Qualiek Crawford scoring on a four-yard run to bring the Swamp Foxes closer at 22-6 heading into the half. Crawford had seven rushes on the drive, totaling 39 yards. He finished the game with 52 yards and caught three passes for 45 yards.

Abbeville out-gained Marion, 181-44 in total yardage in the first half.

“We take a lot of pride in being a good defense and them scoring right before halftime fired us up,” senior linebacker Cruz Temple said. “We came out with a good mindset in the second half and just played Abbeville football.

“This means so much to us, getting this state title after last year. We went through a lot this season but we stuck together. We made this our goal from the time our season ended last year and then Covid hit and we weren’t even sure we would have a season. It feels good to finish it off the right way.”

Temple, who signed with East Carolina, finished the game with nine tackles and two tackles for loss. Fellow linebacker Ty Cade, a sophomore, had 10 tackles.

Any momentum gained by Marion at halftime was quickly extinguished on the second-half kickoff. Abbeville sophomore Zay Rayford grabbed the kickoff, took it across the field and raced 80 yards to the end zone, giving the Panthers a 30-6 lead just 14 seconds into the third quarter.

“Certainly that was a huge play for us, getting off to that good start,” Nickles said.

Marion’s defense forced a punt later in the quarter and the Swamp Foxes put together a solid drive into Abbeville territory, The progress ended, however, on an interception inside the Abbeville five-yard line.

Abbeville managed just 40 yards in the third quarter.

Into the fourth quarter, Marion again put together a nice drive inside Abbeville territory, Again, however, ball security was an issue. A fumble at the Abbeville 25-yard line was picked up by Sincere Ceasor, who raced untouched 72 yards down the sideline for a touchdown and a 37-6 lead with 10:50 left in the contest. The Panthers threatened to score later in the quarter but Marion’s Aumari Rollins came up with an interception.

For the Swamp Foxes’ defense, Levern Bell tallied 11 tackles, two tackles for loss and recovered a fumble. Kyheim Bethea added nine tackles and TJ Sanders had six,

After losing in the Upper State finals to Saluda a year ago, ending a four-year reign as state champions, Nickles says the team made it a mission to get another opportunity in 2020.

“I think those kids set their mind on making a statement this year. Whether we won it or lost it, we were going to be ready,” Nickles said. “And from the time the high school league turned us loose, these kids did everything we absolutely asked them to do. I am proud of each and every one of them.

“We didn’t know who we were playing from week to week. Our first two games were gone due to Covid so we had to find games. Our kids just persevered all through that. It was fun. What a year. Just give these kids so much credit.”

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