GOOSE CREEK - As far as stinging defeats go, Stratford High School head football coach Ray Stackley felt like he had just suffered one of his worst on Friday.
Sumter head coach Paul Sorrells knows the feeling, having seen his team blow a big lead late in its season opener to Crestwood last week.
Sumter scored 24 unanswered points in the final 18 minutes to snatch victory, 31-28, from the Knights on Ethan Epps' 30-yard field goal at the horn.
"We challenge them before the game to see how we were going to bounce back from last week," Sorrells said. "When they went up 28-7, it looked like we were just about to melt away. It was a real gut check by our team. I am very proud of them."
It was a second-chance opportunity for Epps, who hooked his first attempt, Stratford was flagged for roughing the kicker, capping a nightmarish evening on special teams.
"This is probably one of the toughest I've endured," Stackley said of the loss that dropped his team to 0-2. "We had the game well in hand."
Moments earlier, after Sumter's Kameron Dunnican's 70-yard touchdown catch tied it with 2:10 left, Stratford muffed the ensuing kickoff, setting up Sumter at the Knights' 25.
The Gamecocks moved to Stratford's 18 and ran the clock down to two seconds. Epps' second try was perfect after he moved up five yards.
"We just weren't playing tough," said Sumter coach Paul Sorrells, whose team blew a 10-point lead in under four minutes to lose last week to rival Crestwood 25-24. "We were sort of acting a little bit on the baby side. I think they grew up a lot tonight."
The Gamecocks, who improved to 1-1 on the seaosn, used the big play to get back in it. Stratford led comfortably 28-7 with 6:42 left in the third quarter after DaQwan Richardson returned a fumble 15 yards for a score when a high snap got away from the Sumter punter.
The unraveling began from there as Sumter's offense came to life. The Gamecocks had just 61 yards of offense before the comeback.
The Gamecocks' Robert Ross then turned an ordinary screen pass from quarterback Mic Davis into an 87-yard touchdown down the sideline to make it 28-14, then Jason Dozier capped the next possession on a 54-yard touchdown run with 3:04 left in the third quarter after a roughing the punter on Stratford continued the drive.
Sumter's first score was an 83-yard return of a blocked field goal by Mariel Cooper. The Knights also had a punt blocked in the loss and missed another field goal.
"It was a game of runs and, when they made the last run, we didn't respond," Stackley said.
Davis was 12 of 23 for 213 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions for Sumter.
Stratford freshman quarterback Jacob Park was 11 of 22 for 128 yards and a 25-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Barnwell in the third quarter. He also dove one in from the 1.
Devin Washington added a 5-yard scoring run for the Knights. Barnwell led the Knights in rushing with 85 yards on 17 carries.
SUMTER 31, STRATFORD 28
Sumter - 7 0 14 10 - 31
Stratford - 7 7 0 - 28
SUMTER - Cooper 83 yard blocked kick return (Epps, kick).
STRATFORD - Washington 5 run (Rymer, kick).
STRATFORD - Park 1 run (Rymer kick).
STRATFORD - Barnwell 25 pass from Park (Rymer kick),
STRATFORD - Stephens 15 fumble return (Rymer kick).
SUMTER - Ross 87 pass from Davis (Epps kick).
SUMTER - Dozier 54 run (Epps kick).
SUMTER - Dunnican 70 pass from Davis (Epps kick).
SUMTER - Epps 30 field goal.