Dutch Fork to face White Knoll for Class 5A title

By Thomas Grant Jr.

The “Greatest Story Ever” is reaching its dramatic climax at Dutch Fork High School.

Justin Welch’s 39-yard field goal with 2.4 seconds left gave the Silver Foxes a 31-30 victory over J.L. Mann and the Class 5A Upper State title.

The kick capped a frantic comeback first from 21-7 down at halftime. Trenton Lodge scored two rushing touchdowns of one and 54 yards to tie the game in the third quarter.

The Patriots opened the fourth quarter with a seven-yard touchdown pass by Ethan Anderson to Mikel McClellen. However, placekicker Phil Georgeopolous missed the extra point to keep the score 27-21.

The next three series ended in turnovers for both teams. After Dutch Fork quarterback Jon Hunt, who substituted for an injured Ethan Offing, was intercepted by Max Hunt, the Patriots drove downfield and Alessandro Santana booted a 37-yard field goal to extend the lead to 30-21 with 2:22 left.

Dutch Fork started from its own 33 looking to extend its title run. Hunt drove the Silver Foxes downfield, completing 4-5 passes on a scoring drive capped by a 17-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Boykin Bickley with 1:17 left.

After failing to recover the onside kick, Dutch Fork’s defense forced a quick three-and-out for J.L. Mann. Having used up all three timeouts, the Silver Foxes got the ball back following a 30-yard kick return by Jayden Westbrook with 47 seconds left at the Patriots 40.

A 13-yard completion and 10-yard run by Hunt brought Dutch Fork to the J.L. Mann 17. After a delay of game penalty moved the football back to the 22-yard field and a Hunt incompletion, Welch entered the game looking for his second career walk of victory.

He calmly sent the kick high through the uprights to kick off a celebration. The final three seconds were run off on J.L. Mann’s five-yard kick return.

After an 0-3 start and coming within a loss of suffering the first losing season of the Knotts’ era, Dutch Fork is headed to Oliver C. Dawson Stadium on Willie Jeffries Field in Orangeburg seeking to repeat and claim its eighth state title.

Standing in the way is the last team to defeat the Silver Foxes. White Knoll continued its historic undefeated season by holding off Summerville 21-14 at home.

Quarterback Landon Sharpe had 195 total yards and two touchdowns. He threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Earl gave the Timberwolves the lead, then scored on a five-yard run in the fourth quarter to make it 21-7.

Photo by Thomas Grant Jr.
White Knoll wide receiver C.J. Earl and quarterback Landon Sharpe after their 35-yard touchdown pass play.

White Knoll’s defense, which has allowed a total of 28 points in the postseason, sealed the win by keeping the Green Wave from the potential game-winning score in the final seconds.

Linebacker Connor Burgess had 8 1 ⁄ 2 sacks, Demenico Banks had eight tackles and a sack and Shrine Bowl linebacker had 3 1 ⁄ 2 tackles, a fumble recovery and also averaged 31.8 yards on punts.

This marks the second meeting this season between Dutch Fork (9-5) and White Knoll (14-0). The Timberwolves pulled off a 17-14 win at home to end the Silver Foxes’ 32-game region winning streak.

This is also the third time the two teams have met twice during the season. Dutch Fork won both meetings in 2012 (Class 4A Lower State final) and 2016 (third round of Class 5A) and are 7-1 under Knotts when playing rematches during the same season.

The Silver Foxes are 7-3 all-time in the state final, all under Knotts. This is the first state title appearance for White Knoll.

WACH Fox 57 (Channel 6 and Channel 1250 on Spectrum) will carry the 8 p.m. final Friday. The game is also available at nfhsnetwork.com for a fee.

Photo by Goflashwin.com – Dutch Fork players hold up placekicker Justin Welch after his game-winning 39-yard field goal to beat J.L. Mann in the Class 5A Upper State final.