Kenyata Smith spent the better part of the game on the sidelines and at the hospital getting medical attention. But the Aiken High School leader's presence was felt in the form of inspiration. Playing better than a half without the player considered the proverbial heart and soul of the team, the Hornets dominated Laurens High School in the second half en route to a 24-7 victory at Hagood Stadium Friday night. "We knew we had to get this one for Kenyata," said Aiken quarterback Bishop Scott, who finished 8-of-11 for 118 yards and a touchdown in his varsity debut. "There was no doubt we were going to win."
For the better part of the first half that was in question, especially when Smith had to be carried off the field after taking one up the middle and getting gang-tackled. He left with an apparent broken left ankle with 3:10 left in the second quarter and was taken to Aiken Regional for x-rays. Trainers on site said Smith would be in a cast for at least six weeks or longer if indeed his ankle was broken. "I think the kids did a good job of doing what they were taught without him in there," Aiken coach Carey Johnson said.
"We had to pull together," said Hornets defensive back Jeff Simpkins, who was especially instrumental on both sides of the ball in the third quarter as the Hornets struck paydirt twice to break the game open. Holding a 10-7 lead minutes into the third quarter, Aiken (1-0) took over at the Laurens 40 following a Raiders three-and-out and 12-yard punt.
The Hornets moved into the 29 and Simpkins snuck out of the backfield, darting unchecked down the sidelines for an easy throw-and-catch with Scott for a touchdown.
Later in the third quarter, Simpkins stripped Laurens fullback Eric Sullivan, allowing Deon Frierson to make a fumble recovery and set up another touchdown.
Ombreyan Broadwater then took a pitch around the left side on the second play from scrimmage to make it 24-7 with 35.5 seconds left in the third quarter and Laurens was done for.
"We just got outhustled," said Laurens coach Doug Painter, who coached the Hornets to their last state title 10 years ago. "We need to have some kids step it up."
Outside of the Smith loss, it was a near flawless opener for the Hornets, who only allowed nine yards of total offense from the time Smith left the game to Broadwater's touchdown. By then, Aiken was in complete control and was well on its way to a win in the home-opener.
The Hornets kept the ball for most of the game with lengthy drives, scoring on a 12-play, 71-yard jaunt via Calder Reardon's 22-yard field goal and a nine-play, 45-yard drive capped by George Mathis' 10-yard run through the middle to lead 10-0 with 10:02 left in the first half. Laurens had two big-gainers against Aiken's subs at the end, but fittingly the game ended with Frierson making an interception on the final play.
Laurens (0-1) answered when Sullivan capped a nine-play, 62-yard drive by scoring on a 22-yard run with just over five minutes left in the second quarter.
Then the news got really bad for Aiken, which doesn't play another home game until the first week in October.
Facing a third-and-seven at the Hornets 38, Smith took a handoff and was met right at the line by a host of Raiders, eventually lying on the field for at least five minutes while medical personnel looked at his lower left leg.
Simpkins never flinched or got worried. "I looked over there and I still knew we were going to win," Simpkins said. "The whole team played off inspiration."
Laurens 0 7 0 0 — 7
Aiken 3 7 14 0 — 24
A — Calder Reardon 22 field goal
A — George Mathis 10 run (Reardon kick)
L —Eric Sullivan 22 run (David McGowan kick)
A — Jeff Simpkins 29 pass from Bishop Scott (Reardon kick)
A — Ombreyan Broadwater 13 run (Reardon kick)