MONCKS CORNER — Part of Berkeley High’s football team’s entrance into the stadium prior to each game is the ceremonial slapping of the deer crossing sign near the corner of the end zone.
As Berkeley entered the field for Friday night’s Class AAAAA first-round playoff game against Irmo, the sign was knocked down by arriving players. That unfortunate incident was somewhat of bad omen for the 9-1 and eighth-ranked Stags.
At least for a half.
Trailing by a touchdown at halftime, the Stags responded with two touchdowns in the first four minutes of the third quarter and dominated the second half to advance to the second-round with a 48-33 victory.
Linebacker Demond Navarre picked off two passes, returning the second 80 yards for go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter. After Irmo tied the game at 27, the Stags scored on three straight possessions to pull away.
“I told the guys at halftime if they wanted to go out like this, I still loved them all but so be it,” Berkeley coach Randy Robinson said. “Irmo deserves a lot of credit. They played loose and played with nothing to lose. We knew they had some speed and it showed some tonight. We have some speed too and both teams sort of put on an offensive show.”
Berkeley senior quarterback Eric Tuttle threw for 253 yards, hitting Shrine Bowl receiver DJ Chisolm with seven passes for 146 yards and two scores. Running back Keshawn Wicks rushed for 126 yards and three touchdowns, gaining nearly 100 yards in the second half.
Berkeley’s defense forced two early turnovers, an interception by Navarre and a fumble recovery. Despite taking two drives into the red zone, the Stags settled for a pair of field goals (34, 32 yards) from Josh Simmons for an early 6-0 advantage.
Berkeley later lost a fumble early in the second quarter and the visiting Yellow Jackets made it count, connecting on a 46-yard touchdown pass from John Ragin to Jaden Shepard for a 7-6 lead with 9:52 left in the second quarter.
Later in the quarter, with Irmo pinned at their own five-yard line, Ragin tossed a quick out to Omarion Dollison who raced 95 yards for a touchdown and a 14-6 lead.
“We worked on the tunnel screen all week, knew it was coming, but they broke it anyway,” Robinson said.
The Stags needed four plays to strike again as Tuttle found Chisolm on a short pass. The Shrine Bowl selection made a man miss, broke a tackle, and raced in for a 70-yard score, cutting the Irmo lead to 14-13 with 4:39 left in the half.
Just before halftime, Irmo’s Kendrell Flowers broke off a 43-yard run to the Berkeley 10. With time running out, Irmo faked a field goal and Ragin hit Amir Eubanks with a 6-yard touchdown pass as time expired. Irmo missed the extra point, sending the teams into halftime with Irmo holding a 20-13 lead.
Wicks capped Berkeley’s third quarter opening possession with a 2-yard run to tie the game at 20. Navarre’s interception return pushed the Stags to a 27-20 lead with 8:15 left in the third. After Irmo tied the game at 27, Wicks scored on a pair of short runs and Tuttle combined with Chisolm on a 21-yard pass.
“It’s all about moving on,” Robinson said. “We made some mistakes tonight but we made a lot of big plays also. I’m proud of our guys. We’re playing next week.”
Berkeley remains at home for their second-round game against River Bluff.