It was the first time this season that anyone other than quarterback Sam Hartman had delivered Oceanside’s pregame speech. Motivation can be drawn a lot of ways.
So the Landsharks listened intently to the passionate pleading of Eugene Benton, a volunteer team manager who thanklessly spends countless hours behind the scenes helping the program.
“Listen, you know I’d do anything for you guys,” Benton started. “I’ve never asked you for anything in return. I’m asking for this one tonight.”
Oceanside delivered Benton a 42-21 win over Wade Hampton Friday at Park West in Mount Pleasant. The win snaps a two-game slide for the Landsharks, who improve to 3-2 overall this season. For Benton, though, it meant even more.
Benton grew up in Walterboro, less than 30 minutes from Wade Hampton High School where his cousin was the starting quarterback, starting pitcher, starting everything. Their family is still heavily entrenched in the area, owners of Benton Peanut Farm just outside of the city. Benton’s phone lit up as early as Monday morning with texts stirring up the old family rivalry.
“I’ll never ask you for anything again,” Benton told Oceanside before kickoff on Friday. “If you can go get this one tonight.”
Benton’s stepson Gerald Shephard, the state’s leading receiver, had heard Benton’s plea long before Friday. Shephard came through with 13 catches for 258 yards and a pair of touchdowns despite battling nagging injuries.
“He was telling me, ‘Oh you better have a big game you know,’” Shephard said with a laugh. "This team is his life. He does a lot for us. And this game really meant something more to him. So to go win it for him, yeah it’s pretty special.”
Hartman did his part with a season-high 451 yards and six touchdowns, while wearing new cleats autographed by NFL Pro Bowler Josh Norman. Benton was the first person Hartman sought out after the game.
“We got you,” he assured. “You know we got you.”
Shephard cracked the century mark with three minutes left in the first quarter after an 85-yard catch-and-run put the Landsharks ahead 21-7. Oceanside led 28-14 at halftime, the beneficiary of three first-half fumbles by Wade Hampton, who finished with six on the night.
“You’re not going to win doing that,” Wade Hampton head coach Jerry Brown said. “You’ll get embarrassed is what you’ll do. We got embarrassed tonight.”
Oceanside lineman Mark Hellema recovered fumbles on Wade Hampton’s first two possessions of the second half. The Landsharks defense appeared much improved against the run, a perceived weakness in past weeks.
Wade Hampton’s Wing-T offense smashed away with Davey Sanders who finished with three touchdowns on the ground. The Landsharks defense bent at times but never completely broke thanks in large part to safety Myles McGrew crashed down for 18 tackles and the return of space-eating lineman Noah Gregg, both of whom recovered fumbles.
“(Wade Hampton’s) scheme is tough. You just don’t see it every day,” Oceanside head coach Chad Grier said. “It’s no secret our soft spot has been running right at us. Our kids fought back though.
“I tell them all the time, ‘Toughness is a choice. Choose to be tough.’ They’re making that choice.”
Friday, though, went to Benton who was smothered by the players after the game and then hoisted onto their shoulders and tossed up into the air. Grier looked back from midfield to check on the commotion at the far end zone and let out a wide smile watching his players carry around Benton who gleamed with pride.
“Amazing,” Grier said. “That may be the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.”