Gritty Ashley Ridge on verge of 1st final

QB Jacob Thompson typifies Ashley Ridge’s toughness as they head into a II-AAAA semifinal at Greenwood.

Ashley Ridge football coach Kenny Walker knew there was something different about this team down in Beaufort.

Leading the reigning region champions by a touchdown with less than a minute left before halftime, Walker was content to run out the clock and head into the locker room with a seven-point lead.

The assistant coaches and players implored him to go for the knockout punch. He called 40-Go, a deep route for senior receiver Seamus McKinney. Sixty yards later, the Swamp Foxes led 28-14 and they went on to beat Beaufort, 35-31.

"Beaufort had just scored to get some momentum and instead of sitting on the ball, we went for the touchdown and Seamus made a great play for us," Walker said. "I think that's when the light went on for everyone. We knew we had a chance to be a special team and maybe win the region."

The Swamp Foxes (10-3) play at Greenwood (12-1) tonight for a spot in next weekend's Division-II AAAA title game.

In only his second year as head coach, Walker has led the Swamp Foxes to their first region title and state semifinal appearance. Walker has been at the school since it first opened four years ago.

"We've come a long way in four years," Walker said. "We didn't get a lot of the kids that had played for Fort Dorchester and Summerville, so we kind of started from scratch. We've got a great coaching staff in place and the kids have bought into everything we've tried to do. We don't have the most talent, but the kids work hard and play hard, so they deserve the credit."

Ashley Ridge is one win away from getting to its first state title appearance after a gritty fourth- quarter performance against Stratford last week.

Trailing 21-14 after three quarters, the Foxes rallied for 10 points, including a 64-yard TD drive in the final two minutes for the winning score. The win avenged an earlier 31-24 loss to the Knights in the third week of the regular season.

"We had a chance to beat Stratford in the regular season and came up short," Walker said. "Last week, we were driving toward that same end zone, and this time we were able to make a play and get the win. It was pretty ironic."

The Swamp Foxes toughness can be traced to their quarterback, junior Jacob Thompson. Thompson has thrown for 1,491 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. He dislocated his kneecap earlier in the season, but missed just one game.

"It sounds a lot worse than it was, but Jacob is as tough a kid as you're going to find," Walker said. "Going into the season, we were not really sure what we had at quarterback, but Jacob has really stepped up and played well for us."

Running back Romelo Doctor, who has rushed for 1,471 yards and 18 TDs, has been the Foxes' home run threat all season.

"Romelo is coming up on 3,000 yards for his career," Walker said. "He's so patient with his blockers. He reads his blocks so well, he always seems to put the defender in a bad situation when he makes his cut."

McKinney, who was named to the North-South all-star game, and all-purpose running back Vernon Moree are also big-play threats.

"I've run out of adjectives to describe Seamus," Walker said. "Vernon is a guy people forget about. He has been our unsung hero this season."

Walker has tried to prepare the Swamp Foxes for Greenwood's notorious hostile environment.

"They'll have a big crowd and they won't be very hospitable," Walker said. "I think the biggest thing that concerns me is their team speed, especially on defense. They gang tackle and really run to the football."