Bryan leads Eagles to big win

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 10, 2004

YORK — This time, Chad Bryan refused to let go. He wouldn’t walk off the field in the shadows of another star player.

The Sumter Academy senior lined up opposite of Marion Military Institute’s Jovaris Smith with the visiting Tigers facing fourth down or bust. With 5:43 left in the game and Sumter leading 21-14, MMI had a chance to extend its drive into Eagle territory. The Tigers had momentum and Smith behind center.

Standing just a few steps away, Bryan knew he had to make a play. And just like everyone else — including the toddler Eagle cheerleaders who performed at halftime — Bryan knew his star counterpart would do something with the ball.

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MMI’s Smith took the snap from center, faked a pitch left, and rolled right, intent on finding the first-down marker. But through the middle of the Tiger line, Bryan emerged and grabbed Smith by the back of the jersey.

First down Sumter. More importantly… Ball game Sumter.

Bryan had nine tackles — the last one obviously the most important — but he also led the Eagles to a much-needed win with 208 yards rushing on 34 carries. To say he lifted his team to a win wouldn’t properly depict his performance Friday night.

After both Sumter and MMI turned the ball over on their first possessions of the game, MMI finally broke the goal like on the first play of the second quarter. Powerful gains by Tiger running back Wes McElroy put MMI on the Sumter six yard line. With just eight seconds gone in the second quarter, Smith dashed around the left side of the Sumter defensive line and scored.

That’s when Bryan’s resilience took over — though it took one more mistake.

Driving deep into MMI territory, Sumter faced third-and-13. Bryan lined up behind center and spotted Chase Martin down the right side of the field.

The pass was picked off by Smith, and MMI looked like it might quickly push the lead to two touchdowns.

On the Tigers’ next play, though, quarterback Andrew Alexander mishandled the snap and put the ball on the ground. Sumter’s Hunter Spidle picked up the loose ball and put Sumter right back inside the red zone.

Spidle didn’t fare much better on the next series, when he lined up at quarterback. On a second-and-nine, Spidle fumbled the ball. However, Sumter jumped on the fumble and gave itself a chance. Facing third-and-20, Bryan again stood behind center and attempted the same pass to Martin — this time down the left side of the field.

One possession earlier, that play resulted in a turnover. This time, it resulted in a touchdown.

Sumter converted a two-point conversion — Bryan ran it in, of course.

Near the end of the half, and Sumter leading 8-7, MMI’s Smith decided to take the game back from Bryan.

With 1:46 left in the half and MMI on its own 14 yard line, Smith took the ball from center, escaped a tackle in the backfield, and dashed 86 yards to put the Tigers ahead 14-8.

Sumter came out angry in the third quarter — thanks in part to consecutive tackles that numbed even the officiating crew.

After holding MMI, Sumter’s Cole Dial put together two first-down runs that finished inside the MMI 10-yard line. Eagles head coach Cecil Wallace called Bryan’s number with 8:16 left in the third, and Bryan responded with a 3-yard touchdown plunge.

One possession later, Sumter sealed the game with a methodical romp down the field.

Bryan, Cole and Spidle all had first-down runs that led to a 6-yard touchdown run from Bryan.

With time winding down, MMI had one more chance to score against the Eagles, but Bryan made sure that didn’t happen.

On the night, Bryan had two touchdowns to punctuate his 208-yard rushing performance. Dial finished with 49 yards on 12 carries.

For MMI, Smith led the Tigers with 126 yards rushing and 38 yards passing.

Sumter will travel to Demopolis to face West Alabama Prep next week, while MMI hosts Cornerstone Christian in Marion.