CLEMSON -- For years, Goose Creek High School football fans have warned opposing teams and fans that "The Creek is rising."
On Saturday, the Creek finally crested with a 37-21 victory over Greenwood in the Division II-AAAA state championship in front of about 12,000 fans at Clemson's Memorial Stadium.
It was the Gators' first state championship in football. Goose Creek coach Chuck Reedy said Saturday's game was a perfect ending to a special season.
"It ranks right up here with that Orange Bowl victory," said Reedy, who was an assistant coach at Clemson in 1981 when the Tigers won the Orange Bowl to claim the national championship.
"It really ranks right up there because of these young men. If you knew the type of young men that we're dealing with, the character they have and what they have done to get where
"It really ranks right up there because of these young men. If you knew the type of young men that we're dealing with, the character they have and what they have done to get where they are today, that's what makes this so special."
It was nothing but frustration for Goose Creek football before Reedy arrived in 2002. The team won 11 games in six years, enduring an 0-11 season the year before Reedy took over. The Gators finished 14-1 this season and are 27-2 over the past two years.
Goose Creek used its powerful running game to beat Greenwood. The Gators rushed 60 times for 403 yards and finished with 427 total yards. Greenwood had 268 yards in total offense.
Greenwood took a 21-14 lead with 8:18 left in the third quarter when Kevon Harrison scored on a 1-yard run. But Goose Creek took over from that point.
Virgil Smalls scored his second touchdown of the game, a 1-yard plunge that capped a nine-play, 46-yard drive with 56 seconds left in the third quarter, to tie the score.
The Gators took a 23-21 lead early in the fourth quarter on a safety. Gerald Turner blocked a Greenwood punt and the ball went out of the end zone.
Smalls scored on another 1-yard run with 7:52 left in the game to push the lead to nine points. Tramel Terry delivered the final dagger, a 31-yard touchdown run with 5:13 left in the game.
Reedy said Turner's punt block was a game-changer.
"We roughed (the punter) the first time, and I was all over the coaches," Reedy said. "But we blocked many this year and Turner's blocked punt gave us the lead, which was big in a big game like this."
Greenwood coach Gene Cathcart said his team had chances early.
"But we didn't quite get it done," Cathcart said. "We had a couple of guys open and didn't quite protect or get it done. Against a team like Goose Creek, which is well-coached and athletic, you're going to have to get your home runs when you have the chance."
The Gators' running game was the difference.
Sophomore Caleb Kinlaw set up the Gators' first score with a 62-yard run and finished with 130 yards on 14 carries.
Smalls had 26 carries for 117 yards and three touchdowns. Terry carried eight times for 80 yards and quarterback Jaquan Marsh carried for 78 yards on 10 carries. Marsh finished his high school career with a 33-4 record as a starting quarterback.
Smalls, who finished the season with 40 touchdowns and 85 for his career, was fighting back the tears as he stood in the middle of the field.
"This means so much to me," Smalls said. "This team is a family, and this family came together. It's amazing we came this far."
G--Spearman Robinson 18 pass from Jackson Miles (Matt McManis kick)
GC--Virgil Smalls 1 run (Masamitsu Ishibashi kick)
GC--Tramel Terry 6 run (Ishibashi kick)
G--Spearman 27 pass from Miles (McManis kick)
G--Kevon Harrison 1 run (McManis kick)
GC--Smalls 1 run (Ishibashi kick)
GC--Safety, punt blocked out of endzone
GC--Smalls 1 run (Ishibashi kick)
GC--Terry 31 run (Ishibashi kick)