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FOOTBALL: Darlington uses passing game to help blowout Gordon Lee in region opener

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For the third straight week in a row, Darlington saw most of the opponent’s defense lined up in the box before taking a snap.

In the previous two weeks, the strategy worked. But this week, quarterback Griffin Brewster and the rest of the offense were more than ready to make Gordon Lee pay through the air.

Brewster threw five touchdowns while Darlington’s defense forced five turnovers, giving the Tigers a 50-17 win against the Trojans on Friday night in their Region 6-A opener. Darlington scored 43 of the final 50 points of the game and snapped a two-game losing streak.

“We’ve struggled to get the ball outside when the defense crowds the box, but that changed tonight,” Darlington coach Tommy Atha said. “We’ve been close to converting so many big plays the past two weeks, and we executed those tonight.”

Brewster finished 13-of-15 with 241 yards passing and five touchdowns and only one interception. He completed five passes of 20 yards or more, and at one point completed 11 consecutive passes.

Running back Tijai Whatley finished with 200 total yards, including 113 rushing yards and a receiving touchdown. Wideout Casey Gunn finished with four catches for 62 yards, while Jacob Hunt had two touchdown catches.

The Tigers (2-2, 1-0 6-A) did not lead until early in the second, when Brewster found Gunn for a 43-yard score to put them up 14-10. A Gordon Lee three and out gave it back to Darlington, and this time Brewster found Whatley on a screen pass for a 42-yard score, with a two-point conversion making it 22-10.

Gordon Lee quarterback Austin Thompson threw an interception three plays into the next drive, and the Darlington offense tallied one more touchdown, a Karl Swiger 10-yard run, to go up 29-10 at the half.

“I certainly thought I had to be a leader tonight, but I really can’t take all the credit,” Brewster said. “My line played amazing. I had receivers make some incredible catches, and the coaches tonight called some great plays where we drew them under.”

The Trojans (1-3, 0-1) scored on a Braden Jarvis 48-yard touchdown run to begin the second half, but they converted just three first downs the rest of the game. Meanwhile, Thompson threw two more interceptions, one of them returned for a touchdown by Rhett McDurmon.

The defensive display from Darlington was a welcoming sign after the team allowed 59 points in losses to Ridgeland and Heard County. This week, the unit looked like the aggressive play-making team Atha knows it can be.

“Week in and week out, we always have confidence in our defense,” Atha said. “Our kids take losses very seriously, we have a lot of pride in what we do and the kids have used the last two weeks as motivation.”

Two more touchdown passes from Brewster put Darlington up 43-17, and the McDurmon touchdown gave the game its final score with 2:42 left in the third. The fourth quarter featured a running clock.

Darlington has its first road game in region play next week when it travels to Bowden. But as the season gets tougher, Atha and his team know they can break down their opponents in a multitude of ways on offense.

“Being able to run effectively is going to force defenses stay in the box,” Atha said. “And that is going to make a world of difference when we try to make plays down the field. Tonight showed how effective we can be.”