Oh, Sullivan South’s collective heart was certainly with its injured superstar, but the Rebels’ performance suffered little Friday night in a 37-0 whipping of Union County in a Region 1-4A football game at Death Valley — South’s fourth straight win.
Coach Justin Hilton was understandably pleased after watching his Rebels (4-2, 3-0) hardly miss a step without Reed in the lineup.
A coast-to-coast running back with three games this season of more than 250 yards, Reed suffered a scary leg injury and was carried off the field for keeps with 8:54 left in the second quarter.
Reed was on crutches at halftime, having amassed 81 yards on seven carries.
“I think he’s going to be OK,” said Hilton, who surely gasped when he saw — and heard — Reed writhing in pain on the ground. “It’s an ankle sprain, but I didn’t know what it was until I got out there.”
CLOSE OUT THE HALF
Up 7-0 on a 50-yard touchdown dash from Reed to end the first quarter, South boosted its lead seconds after the injury with a 23-yard field goal by Eli Iacino.
The Rebels cashed in on a golden opportunity soon thereafter, when Eli Topping forced a Union County fumble that Cam Necessary recovered at the Patriots’ 22-yard line.
On the next play, bullish fullback Nathan Harkleroad rumbled his way to the end zone, taking defenders with him, for a 17-0 edge with 45 seconds left in the half.
DON’T MISS A BEAT
It was business as usual for South in the second half, even without Reed.
Quick-footed Jackson McGee filled in admirably, toting the leather nine times for 135 yards and touchdown bursts of 24 and 55 yards.
Quarterback Ethan Bergeron stepped up as well. Just a sophomore, the 6-foot-3, 231-pound Bergeron made it a 24-0 game with a 20-yard touchdown run and finished with 83 yards on a mere six carries.
“When you have a senior offensive line like we’ve got, that pays off for you,” Hilton said. “You know, Jackson McGee gets a chance, a little sophomore who looked good running the ball. And so did Harkleroad at fullback.
“And Bergeron, he grew up tonight, because he was running more downhill than usual. I mean, he’s 200-however-many pounds he is and he’s got to run like it,” his coach added. “If he gets his shoulders downhill, we’re going to be OK.”
South, which next travels to meet perennial heavyweight Greeneville with Reed’s health in question, stonewalled Union County (3-4, 1-2) all evening.
With the 6-2, 226-pound Harkleroad creating havoc at noseman, South forced seven punts through the first three quarters and did not allow the Patriots to penetrate the Rebels’ 47-yard line until the game’s final two minutes.
“Harkleroad, he’s active and he’s fast and he’s strong in there,” Hilton said. “It was just a great plan and a great job by Coach (Eric) Rowe and those guys.”