For the first time this season, the Darlington football team found itself in a heated battle with its opponent on Friday night.
The 48-minutes spent on Jerry Sharp Field at Chris Hunter Stadium were some of the toughest the Tigers have had to play, with visiting Christian Heritage not backing down.
But when it came down to making the plays when they needed to, the Tigers managed to take it to the Lions and remain undefeated.
Kolin Rogers ran for 174 yards and three touchdowns and No. 3 Darlington bounced back from being down 10-0 in the second quarter to win 29-22 and hand fellow Region 6-A/A team Christian Heritage its first defeat of the season.
The Tigers (6-0, 3-0 6-A/A) were down 22-21 with 5:46 left in the game when quarterback Griffin Brewster completed three straight passes to kickstart a drive. Rogers then took over Darlington’s attack on the ground to get to Christian Heritage’s 19-yard line with 2:01 left before the Lions to a timeout.
The break did little to deter the Tigers, as Rogers bolted up the middle on the next play and scored his final touchdown of the night.
After another Christian Heritage timeout, Darlington went for two on the point-after and Brewster faked a handoff before rolling out to the right and finding Hampton Watkins in the end zone to give them a seven-point lead.
Darlington head coach Tommy Atha said there was not much that had to be said during the final timeout.
“We just talked about finishing. Do what you have to do to win a football game,” Atha said. “Step up. Make a play. Believe in what we’re doing. Our guys have so much faith in what we do week in week out. In the game plan, in the coaches, in each other. And it showed up out here tonight.”
With 1:54 left to play, Christian Heritage (4-1, 1-1) began the ensuing drive on its own 23. Darlington’s defense upped the pressure on Lions quarterback Christian Thomas, and the sophomore was picked off on the third play of the drive as Frank Manning cut across the middle of the field for the interception.
Manning served as the Tigers’ starting quarterback for most of last season after Brewster was injured and has become a standout for Darlington’s defense in his senior season.
“Frank is one of the best leaders on this football team. He’s got such high character and plays hard in any position. It doesn’t matter,” Atha said. “Frank Manning is just a football player and steps up and makes big plays.”
Darlington took control of the ball with 1:10 on the clock and — following Christian Heritage’s final timeout of the game — had Brewster take two knees to victory in the Tigers’ closest contest so far this season.
“This win — being able to answer after they took the lead — those are the kind of things that carry you when you get on later in the year and, God willing, into the postseason,” Atha said. “Just learning how to win close football games.”
Brewster finished 10 of 13 for 80 yards passing and caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Shelley on fourth-and-goal in the second quarter to put Darlington on the board and make it 10-7.
The pass was a result of a “Philly Special” trick play, where Brewster moved up behind the line, the ball was snapped to Rogers, who tossed it to Shelley before passing it to Brewster in the end zone to cap the 13-play, 66-yard drive.
After a block in the back call on the ensuing kickoff put Christian Heritage on its own 15, Darlington’s defense stepped up to push the Lions back further, including a tackle for loss by lineman Cade Brock on third-and-19, to force them to punt. Christian Heritage was held to minus-1 yards of offense in the second quarter.
A 1-yard touchdown run by Rogers ended the Tigers’ next drive to put them up 14-10 heading into halftime. It was Rogers again after the break as he had runs of 20 and 22 yards on the first drive of the second half, leading to another 1-yard score.
Brinson Sumner made his third and final kick on the extra point to make it 21-10.
Darlington will be off next week before heading to Trion on Oct. 18.