Dutch Fork football’s longtime perch on top of South Carolina Class 5A football came to an end on Saturday night.
Grayson Loftis hit Suga Jefferies on a 40-yard pass with 3:30 left to give Gaffney a 22-19 win over the Silver Foxes to win the 5A championship at Benedict College’s Charlie W. Johnson Stadium.
The loss snapped Dutch Fork’s 62-game unbeaten streak. The Silver Foxes’ last loss came against Fort Dorchester in 2017. Dutch Fork had won every Class 5A title since the S.C. High School League went to five classifications in 2016.
“This is really what life is like. It is not a (62) game winning streak, five straight championships,” Dutch Fork coach Tom Knotts said. “There is going to be a lot of ups and downs in life. Hopefully, they will learn from this.
“We didn’t do a really good job football-wise, and there is some other things we got to work on. Hopefully, they will be good men when they graduate and young guys will work hard. It is hard to watch that (celebration) and young guys won’t have to watch that again.”
In addition to the title streak, Dutch Fork was trying to win for its fallen teammate, Jack Alkhatib, who died on Aug. 24. Dutch Fork played this season in Jack’s memory and had him on their minds Saturday.
The players arrived at the stadium with No. 60 T-shirts in memory of him. Before the game, South Carolina tight ends coach Erik Kimrey gave Kelly Alkhatib, Jack’s mom, a No. 60 Gamecocks jersey.
“It has been a very long, tough year,” Knotts said. “I’m proud of the way we battled about it and got here. We played three tough teams, Sumter, Fort Dorchester and this time right here. We just ran out of gas and didn’t make the plays when we needed to.”
It was Gaffney’s 17th state championship and first since 2012 when it defeated Dutch Fork in the Class 4A Division I title. The Indians have won state titles in five straight decades.
Gaffney brought the biggest crowd of the weekend. The fans started early Saturday about six hours before kickoff and stayed well after the trophy presentation.
“The goal this year was to put Gaffney back on top and bring the pride and tradition back to Gaffney,” Loftis said. “There is nothing better than winning with a great group of guys.”
The Silver Foxes got off to a quick start with a pair of Davin Patterson touchdowns to go up 13-0 with 3:26 left in the first quarter. They led 13-7 at halftime and 19-7 through three quarters.
But like it has much of the postseason, Gaffney showed the ability to come back. It trailed in playoff wins over Spartanburg and Northwestern but saved the greatest comeback for the title game.
Tyler Smith scored on a 4-yard run on the second play in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 19-14 with 11:20 left. The drive was set up by Landon Bullock’s second interception of the game at the Dutch Fork 18.
Dutch Fork drove it to the Gaffney 30 on its next possession but turned it over on downs with 7:07 left. The Silver Foxes turned it over on downs four times in Gaffney territory.
The Indians took the lead on the next possession. Gaffney got to Dutch Fork 40 and faced third-and 15. That’s when Loftis stepped up and found a wide open Jefferies for the touchdown with 3:30 left. It was the first time the Silver Foxes trailed all season.
“I knew Suga was going to be open and he was going to catch the football. I knew the guys up front had me,” Loftis said. “We have been down before, and we knew we had to keep battling. We just had to persevere and we could come out on top.”
Loftis was 23-of-35 for 248 yards, two interceptions and two touchdowns, both to Jefferies, who finished with seven catches for 153 yards.
Dutch Fork, which won two of its five titles on its final possession, had one last chance to tie it. The Silver Foxes got it to the Gaffney 46 but Brayshawn Littlejohn sacked Patterson. On fourth-and-21, Patterson hit Jacob Hamilton on a screen pass over the middle but he was tackled 2 yards short of the first down.
Patterson threw for 221 yards, ran for 74, three total TDs and two interceptions. Williams had 12 catches for 155 yards and a TD. Jarvis Green rushed for 117 yards and caught four passes for 47 yards.
Gaffney vs Dutch Fork: How they scored
DFHS: Davin Patterson 20-yard run (Justin Welch kick)
DFHS: Patterson 7-yard run (Welch kick failed)
GAFFNEY: Suga Jefferies 47-yard pass from Grayson Loftis (AJ Hames kick)
DFHS: Antonio Williams 42-yard pass from Patterson (Welch kick blocked)
GAFFNEY: Tyler Smith 4-yard run (Hames kick)
GAFFNEY: Jefferies 40-yard pass from Loftis (Deshun Corry pass from Loftis)
RUSHING — DF: Green 13-117, Patterson 14-74, Williams 2-19, Lodge 3-12. G: Smith 25-107, K. Littlejohn 6-14, Loftis 4-11.
PASSING — DF: Patterson 17-29-2 221. G: Loftis 23-35-2 248
RECEIVING — DF: Williams 12-155, Green 4-47, Hamilton 1-19. G: Smith 8-28, Jefferies 7-153, J. Littlejohn 4-30, Tate 3-41.