Ryan Smith is trying to rebuild the football program at Sun Valley High, so he’ll take the victories any way he can get them.
“We did just enough things right,” Smith said, after his undefeated Spartans got past host Cuthbertson 7-0 in a Southern Carolina 4A Conference opener Friday night.
“This certainly wasn’t our best night, but we did what was needed,” added Smith, after Sun Valley improved to 7-0 overall. The school’s athletics officials say they think this is the first time in the school’s 60-years-plus history that the football team has opened with a 7-0 mark.
It was a strange night for the Spartans in the Deer Park Union County game of the week. They ate up all but 20 seconds of the first quarter with their game-opening touchdown drive – then relied on the defense to keep the Cavaliers (5-2, 0-1) off the scoreboard.
“This is Year 2 for our coaching staff,” said Smith, who played quarterback at Sun Valley a dozen years ago. “We’re still figuring out how to win. And we’re getting there.”
The Spartans won their first five games by scores of 49-14, 35-7, 34-33, 49-0 and 48-0. That’s what made Friday’s final score so unusual.
“You’ve got to give that team a lot of credit,” Smith said of Cuthbertson. “Their defense is as good as any we’ve played.”
Sun Valley won despite gaining only 58 total yards in the second half.
Twice in the fourth quarter, the host Cavaliers drove into Sun Valley territory. Both times, the Spartans’ defense made big plays.
The game essentially was decided by Cuthbertson penalties and Sun Valley’s defense.
The Spartans’ game-opening 91-yard, 17-play drive was aided by two Cuthbertson offside penalties that gave Sun Valley first downs, and an even costlier personal foul late in the drive.
On fourth-and-1 at the Cavalier 23, Sun Valley appeared to be stopped on an incomplete pass. But penalties on each team, including a roughing-the-passer call against Cuthbertson, gave Sun Valley another chance. The Spartans converted, and they scored four players later on a 7-yard run by quarterback Brady Turriff.
Cuthbertson appeared to score in the final minute of the third quarter, but a holding penalty negated what would have been a touchdown run.
The Cavaliers’ final drive ended in Sun Valley territory when quarterback Teja Sista was sacked by Braylon Martin.
“We’re still getting there,” a disappointed Cuthbertson head coach Duke Howell said afterward. “We were missing our best defensive player tonight (injured end Rocco Fazzolari), but our defense still did a really good job.”
Smith said he and his players know that most fans still see Sun Valley as a bottom-of-the-standings team, but he said things are changing.
“We know most people picked against us tonight,” he said. “We’re trying to build this program, one win at a time. It’s a process.”
Three who made a difference
Braylon Martin (Sun Valley): There were a number of defensive standouts for the Spartans, but Martin, a senior defensive back, had three pass break-ups and a key open-field tackle.
Cole Webster (Cuthbertson): A 6-3, 245-pound junior defensive tackle, Webster had three tackles for losses and was a big reason why Sun Valley had trouble running the ball in the second half.
Brady Turriff (Sun Valley): In a game with few offensive highlights, Turriff was a steadying force. He completed 16-of-25 passes and ran for the only touchdown.
▪ Friday night marked the first time in nine years that both Sun Valley and Cuthbertson entered the game against each other with winning records. The last time was in 2014, when Sun Valley was 5-4 and Cuthbertson 6-3.
▪ The last time Sun Valley entered a game against Cuthbertson with a winning record was in 2018. The Spartans were 6-2, current Cuthbertson coach Duke Howell was a Sun Valley assistant, and Howell’s son Sam, now quarterback of the NFL’s Washington Commanders, was quarterbacking the Spartans.
▪ The two teams played errorless football, with no interceptions or lost fumbles.
▪ Sun Valley has a bye next week, then finishes the regular season against a gantlet of conference opponents – Weddington, Marvin Ridge and Porter Ridge. “The bye is coming at a really good time for us,” Smith said. “We need a chance to heal up.”
Sun Valley has a bye next week, then resumes conference play Oct. 13 at defending Southern Carolina 4A champion Weddington. Cuthbertson plays its final home game of the regular season next Friday, hosting conference foe Marvin Ridge.
Sun Valley 7 0 0 0 — 7
Cuthbertson 0 0 0 0 — 0
SV — Brady Turriff 7 run (Kyler Hemme kick)