on December 1, 2009 by in Uncategorized, Comments (0)

Despite disappointment, Lions’ season filled with success

CENTRAL — While the Daniel High School football team’s long-term goal was undoubtedly to reach the State Championship – a goal that came to an abrupt halt after the Lions fell 35-28 in heartbreaking fashion to Clinton in the Upper State title game last Friday – it would be difficult to classify the season as anything other than a success.

Daniel roared through its regular season schedule, finishing undefeated for the second straight season, and entered the postseason riding a 27-game regular season winning streak.

The Lions were able to steamroll through their biggest test during that stretch, a Week 8 game on the road against Belton-Honea Path that Daniel won fairly easily, 28-7.

Once that game was secure, it was clear that the Lions were well on their way to a third straight Western 3A title, which they wrapped up the following week with a 27-7 win over West-Oak.

Yet, after riding that momentum into the playoffs and picking up three wins, Daniel saw itself facing a 28-7 deficit late in the third quarter in that Upper State title game.

And though they eventually lost, the Lions fought back to tie that game and show that they weren’t willing to simply close the book and fold on their championship run.

“I told them I was proud of them because of the way they battled back,” Daniel head coach Randy Robinson said. “I’m disappointed we played so poorly in the first half. We didn’t seem to come out with the intensity we needed, especially on defense. At the same time, we showed that toughness to battle back. We gave ourselves a chance to win at the end, that’s all you can ask for.”

Daniel’s defense may not have had its best game against Clinton, but that was perhaps the only negative performance in what was a season-long clinic on domination.

The unit registered five shutouts, including one in the playoffs against Berea, and allowed just 7.7 points per game. It racked up 25 total interceptions, with one being coming on perhaps the biggest play of the season.

That play was late in the fourth quarter of a second-round playoff game with Chester. Having lost the last two years in the playoffs to Chester, and nursing a 27-24 lead, the Lions were in danger of giving up a game-winning touchdown to the Cyclones and losing for a third straight year.

But J.P. Hill intercepted a pass with less than 30 seconds remaining inside Daniel’s 20-yard line, finally getting the Lions past their playoff nemesis.

“That was a big deal to the program,” Robinson said. “They knocked us out two years in a row, so these seniors definitely wanted to find Chester somewhere in the playoffs and try and try to even things up a little bit. That was probably one of the most emotional wins of my career.”

The team’s 25 seniors will have that memory to look back on while thinking about their football career. For some though, their careers will continue at the college level. That group includes standout wide receiver and defensive back DeAndre Hopkins, who will play next season at Clemson.

That being said, there is little reason to count on graduation causing Daniel to take any sort of step back from the state’s elite.

“We’ve got some guys on JV, the JV has won the region, so if those guys work hard in the offseason they can step in for some of these seniors spots,” Robinson said. “We’ve got a chance to have a good team again next year.”