FLORENCE — On most football Friday nights, it’s the Spring Garden Panthers who impose their will on their opponents.
But on this Friday night, it was another pride of Panthers who imposed theirs.
Top-ranked Mars Hill (12-2) dominated No. 4 Spring Garden 32-14 to advance to next Thursday’s Class 2A title game. They’ll face Abbeville for the 2A title At Tuscaloosa’s Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Spring Garden’s record first season in Class 2A ends at 12-2.
“We were shell shocked a little when we came out,” Spring Garden head coach Jason Howard said. “Playing a good team, you can’t be passive. I feel like we were a little passive.
“They’re a good team. They’re very physical. Very few times this year has someone been more physical than us. They were more physical than us up front.”
Mars Hill got on the scoreboard on Hunter Kilpatrick’s 32-yard touchdown run with 10:35 remaining in the first quarter. The extra point was no good.
Peyton Higgins added a 32-yard touchdown run at the 6:03 mark of the opening quarter. Again, the PAT was no good, keeping the score at 12-0.
In the second quarter, Justus McDaniel scored on a 3-yard TD run. He also ran in for the 2-point conversion to give Mars Hill a 20-0 edge at halftime.
Mars Hill kept pouring it on in the third quarter as McDaniel scored again on an 86-yard touchdown run. The try for two was short, but Mars Hill held a commanding 26-0 advantage with 9:26 remaining in the third.
Higgins scored Mars Hill’s final touchdown on a 47-yard run with 9:58 in the fourth quarter.
Higgins ran for 145 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns. McDaniel had 142 yards on 13 carries with two scores. Kilpatrick collected 102 yards on six totes with a touchdown.
Spring Garden finally got on the board on senior quarterback Ryley Kirk’s 18-yard TD pass to senior running back Weston Kirk. Cam Welsh’s extra point was no good, keeping the score at 32-6 Mars Hill with 7:32 to go in the game.
Cooper Austin had the game’s final touchdown on a 55-yard touchdown catch with 4:23remaining. Weston Kirk ran in for the 2-point conversion for the final.
Ryley Kirk completed 6-of-13 pass attempts for 145 yards and two touchdowns in his final game for Spring Garden. His top receiver was Austin, who had four catches for 119 yards and a touchdown.
“This group left a legacy of 34-6 in three years. They set the bar high,” Howard said. “The challenge is the group after them, can they raise that bar to the next level? That challenge has been put forth to them already.
“If we’re going to be as good or better next year, then it starts now. It can’t wait until August.”