Early in the second quarter of Friday night's high school football game at Hagood Stadium, Aiken looked like it was about to overcome what was a two-touchdown deficit and tie visiting Blythewood. The Hornets had just scored on Nakeem Spann's sensational 55-yard run off a lateral and recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff.
Following a first-down conversion and a 9-yard run by Spann, Aiken had second-and-1 from the Blythewood 4-yard line. Spann was stopped for a loss of a yard on the next play, and Markese East couldn't gain any ground following a timeout.
On fourth-and-2, Hornets coach Carey Johnson rolled the dice and went for the first down, if not the touchdown. He came up empty on both. Will Heggs, making his first start as one of the wings in the Wing-T offense, took the handoff on a jet sweep to the left and sprinted the width of the field but only gained 1 yard on the play.
If the missed opportunity dampened Aiken's spirits, the next play crushed them. Deep in its own territory, the Bengals only needed one play to break open the game, as Dean Beckford took a handoff and hit the jets, going 96 yards untouched for a touchdown.
"We didn't score to tie the game, and that took the wind out of our sails," Aiken head coach Carey Johnson said following his team's 49-7 loss. "We didn't rebound from that."
Blythewood coach Reggie Kennedy echoed Johnson's sentiments, saying, "That was big. It started with defense and the goal-line stand. The touchdown took the wind out of their sails. It was a critical point, and I saw the game turn from there."
What Kennedy saw was his team close out the game, scoring 35 unanswered points for its fifth consecutive victory. The Bengals (5-1) dominated both sides of the line of scrimmage. The defense prevented the Hornets from ever threatening to score the rest of the way, thanks to a huge push up the middle that flummoxed the Wing-T. Blythewood's offensive line opened holes and allowed eight different Bengal ball carriers to combine for 274 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
"We got whipped," Johnson said succinctly of his squad, which fell to 2-4 on the season. "We were beat in all phases of the game."
Blythewood's massive quarterback Kylen Binn picked apart Aiken's defense. He led the Bengals' offense, which is usually run first, to 35 first-half points by putting Aiken on its heels passing. He completed 7 of 11 attempts in the first-half for 77 yards and an 18-yard touchdown connection with Lynard Jamison. Binn, who stands about 6-foot-6, completed his first six passes and showed nimble running ability. For the game, he had seven carries for 48 yards, including three touchdowns.
"We did a good job blocking for him," Kennedy said.
Johnson saw it another way from his team's perspective.
"We weren't filling the alleys on defense," he said. "We played too soft."
There wasn't much for Aiken to feel good about in the loss. It looked disjointed at times, committing five penalties and losing two fumbles. The second fumble was recovered by Blythewood's Dominique Lemon late in the fourth quarter, and he returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.
Spann had a solid game. He had 12 carries for 98 yards, with more than half coming on his long score. In flashes, Heggs showed why the Hornet coaches moved him from quarterback to wing in an effort to utilize his tremendous speed and give him more opportunities to run. He had 13 carries for 26 yards.
But it was clear this was his first game in the new role, as Heggs struggled with blocking on the perimeter at times, helping the Bengals' aggressive defense to keep the Wing-T under wraps. Heggs' replacement at QB, Devante Gaiters, didn't offer much of a passing threat. He had two that looked like they were intended to be screens but were actually backward laterals to Spann, while his only other attempt fell to the ground incomplete.
The loss was the second in a row for Aiken, which will be home again next Friday for the third consecutive week. It will play host to White Knoll in its homecoming game, and Johnson is looking for his team to respond positively.
"We can either come out fighting or quit," he said. "We've got to straighten some things out, know our assignments and come out fighting."
Noah Feit is the Sports Editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.
BLY 14 21 7 7 - 49
AIK 7 0 0 0 - 7
BLY-Kylen Binn 10 run (Greg Huegel kick) 9:48.
BLY-Binn 8 run (Huegel kick) 3:16.
AIK-Nakeem Spann 55 run (Troy Bengue kick) 0:24.
BLY-Dean Beckford 96 run (Huegel kick) 9:12.
BLY-Devin Albert 7 run (Huegel kick) 6:52.
BLY-Binn 18 pass Lynard Jamison (Huegel kick) 1:37.
BLY-Binn 1 run (Huegel kick) 6:15.
BLY-Dominique Lemon 22 fumble return (Tucker Smith kick) 3:48.
BLY-Dean Beckford 5-117 1 TD, Kylen Binn 7-48 3 TDs, Devin Albert 8-45 1 TD, Ben Ruiz 7-27, Leomont Adams 4-20, Shyheim Brown 1-10, Lynard Jamison 3-5, Travis Palmer 2-2.
AIK-Nakeem Spann 12-98 1 TD, Markese East 9-41, Leon Simmons 2-27, Will Heggs 13-26, D'Andre Pope 3-2, Kyson Swinger 1-(-2), Devante Gaiters 4-(-8).
BLY-Kylen Binn 9-14-81 1 TD, Travis Palmer 1-2-10.
AIK-Devante Gaiters 0-1-0.
BLY-Javon Smith 3-26, Devin Albert 1-22, Lynard Jamison 1-18 1 TD, Ben Ruiz 1-10, Joe Britt 1-7, Shyheim Brown 2-4, Hank Estep.
Click on any image below to see a photo gallery from Friday Night Football across Aiken County: