GOOSE CREEK — Surrendering a 60-yard bomb for a touchdown as the clock expired was not the way Jason Winstead wanted to end the first half.
Never mind that his Goose Creek Gators had already put the game out of reach with 21 second-quarter points of their own en route to a 48-27 win over South Florence in the first round of the Class AAAAA playoffs. Quarterback Emmanuel Mukuamu ran for three touchdowns and passed for three more in the win.
Winstead’s goal is a state title, and giving up big plays like that can lead to an early postseason exits.
“They caught us napping,” said Winstead, who’s in his second year as head coach of the Gators. “But this is playoff football. We just have to bounce back and respond.”
After the game, Winstead told his players that they had a lot to clean up before next week’s playoff game. It’ll be against Summerville, a team they’ve been waiting for since their regular season bout was cancelled due to Hurricane Dorian.
Though the defense made some mistakes, it was that side of the ball that made the difference in Friday’s high-scoring affair.
For example, the Gators stifled South Florence mid-way through the second quarter on a key fourth down play. The stop created a turnover on downs, giving the ball back to the Goose Creek offense.
Then, just before the two-minute warning, the Gators sacked the South Florence quarterback twice, pushing the team back to their own goal line. That set up a short field after the Bruins punted away, eventually ending with the Gators tacking on another seven points before the half.
Finally, in the last minute of the quarter, defensive back Melvin Ravenel snagged an interception, which allowed the Gator offense to trot back on the field. Mukuamu capitalized on the opportunity, eventually jogging it in for a 5-yard touchdown. It was his third rushing score of the game.
“Our defense has been balling out all season,” Mukuamu said. “That’s a testament to the coordinator and our head coach. And we played well as an offense, so we get good results when the two sides come together.”
Meanwhile, the Gator scoring attack was on full display throughout the game. Mukuamu kicked things off with a 8-yard touchdown pass about halfway through the first quarter, and added a 1-yard rushing score just a few minutes later.
Just a few seconds into the second quarter, the star passer struck again with a 10-yard touchdown pass to DJ Matthews. He posted five scores in the half and finished the game accounting for six scores.
With Summerville up next, Mukuamu thinks the home field advantage will work well for his team.
Winstead agrees, but expects to see the visitor seats as packed as their side of the field.
“It’s going to be a big one for our area,” the Clemson graduate said. “I think we’re all expecting a huge crowd, so we have to be prepared to give our fans a show.”