Dutch Fork Secures Back-to-Back Class 5A Titles with Victory Over White Knoll

ORANGEBURG | Just two months ago, Dutch Fork was a loss away from posting its first-ever losing season under head coach Tom Knotts.

Last week, the Silver Foxes found itself trailing J.L. Mann nine points and facing their first loss in the Lower State final.

Friday night at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium, those past adversities were in the rear-view window for victorious Dutch Fork. It defeated Region 4-5A champion White Knoll 21-6 to retain the Class 5A title for the seventh time in eight years.

Dutch Fork head coach Tom Knotts with wife Kima

“It is a pretty good story, starting out with five losses, but it is not how you start — it is how you finish,” Knotts said. “We weren’t very good at the beginning, but I am proud of our seniors for hanging with us, and we got it turned around. And that is how Dutch Fork plays football. That’s how we roll.”

In capping “The Greatest Story Ever”, as Knotts coined this season which ended with an eight-game winning streak and the school’s eighth title, the Silver Foxes (10-5) held the Timberwolves (14-1) to 114 total yards, held them to 1-11 on third downs and sacked quarterback Landon Sharpe five times.

Sophomore linebacker Raleigh Salters led Dutch Fork with seven tackles and two sacks. Senior linebackers Deon Winsley and Bryce Nutail had six and four tackles, respectively, and defensive back Peyton Betts was part of a secondary which limited Sharpe to a season-low 86 passing yards. 

“The defense was playing lights out the entire time,” Knotts said.

“We had to shut them down,” senior defensive lineman Dakota Jordan said. “They beat us the first time (a 17-14 win by White Knoll on Oct. 6), we were all like ‘They should have never had beat us.’ But the second time around, we knew was to expect. We were prepared.”

Conversely, Dutch Fork quarterback Jonathan Hunt outgained White Knoll’s offense with 135 passing yards and two rushing touchdowns.

Much like the first meeting won, it was a defensive battle. The only score of the first half came after a botched snap on fourth down by Dutch Fork at its own 31.

The ball flew past both Hunt and running back Maurice Anderson, whose effort to retrieve it ended up kicking it into the endzone. Diving across the goal line to recover the ball was linebacker Lincoln Ilunga for the touchdown.

Jordy Aguilera’s PAT attempt bounced off the left goalpost. The score remained 6-0 in favor of White Knoll as both teams held each other to under 100 total yards.

After a halftime wakeup call from Knotts, the Silver Foxes got an offensive spark to open the second half.

Trent Lodge’s 31-yard run was the longest from scrimmage by Dutch Fork. Hunt took over from there with a 24-yard pass to Leyton Shuler, followed two plays later by his 2-yard touchdown run.

White Knoll head coach Nick Pelham with his son Dutch Fork linebacker Andrew Pelham and his daughter.

Dutch Fork’s next scoring drive was set up after an 11-yard punt by Shrine Bowl linebacker Jaiden Kimble. With the ball at the White Knoll 35, Hunt converted a third and 13 with a 16-yard run down the home sidelines. Hunt’s 18-yard pass to Shuler set up his second 2-yard touchdown run to extend the lead to 14-6.

A pass interference penalty on White Knoll extended Dutch Fork’s final scoring drive in the fourth quarter. KJ Smith scored from four yards with 6:03 left and the Silver Foxes forced the Timberwolves to turn the ball over on downs with 2:57 left to seal the victory.

“We lost the game in all three facets. It wasn’t just one, trust me,” White Knoll head coach Nick Pelham said. “On offense we struggled just to keep drives going, make a few first downs, hold the ball, get some confidence. I think that’s something that will stick with us a long time which is we didn’t do a good job on third down.”

PHOTOS BY THOMAS GRANT JR. The Dutch Fork football team