DJ Matthews TD catch

Goose Creek receiver DJ Matthews (10) celebrates with teammate Khyon Smith after making a touchdown grab late in the first quarter.

After a few subpar seasons, Friday night was a chance for the Goose Creek football program to prove it is a force to be reckoned with as the Gators hosted defending region champion Berkeley in a key Region 7-AAAAA matchup.

The Gators answered the bell in a big way. Goose Creek put up two touchdowns in the first quarter and held off a late Berkeley charge to win 35-27.

The win was Goose Creek’s first over their county rivals since 2008 and moved the Gators to 4-2 overall and 2-0 in region play. Berkeley dropped to 4-2 overall and 1-1 in league play.

“What an effort by our kids tonight, so proud of them,” Goose Creek coach Jason Winstead said. “We’re growing up. Last year, when a team made a run at us, we didn’t handle it very well. Berkeley came at us tonight. We knew they would. But our kids were up to the challenge.”

Goose Creek senior quarterback Emmanuel Mukuamu passed for 258 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for 118 yards and a score to pace the Gators. Damon Mouzon caught 10 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns, setting up a score with a 64-yard kickoff return as well.

“This goes back to all the hard work in the summer,” Mukuamu said. “We’re growing as a team. We feel like we’re capable of playing with anyone when we play well. We proved that tonight.”

Berkeley quarterback Willie Chisolm finished with 286 yards passing and four touchdowns, combining with Solomon Butler on three passing scores.

Goose Creek drove 61 yards on 10 plays on their its first possession, Mukuamu hitting Mouzon on a 9-yard pass for a 7-0 lead with 7:28 remaining in the first quarter.

Berkeley answered with a nice drive inside the Gators’ 30-yard line but failed to convert on fourth down. Mukuamu marched Goose Creek 67 yards on nine plays, hitting DJ Matthews on an 18-yard scoring pass and a 14-0 lead with 1:27 left in the first quarter.

Goose Creek opened the third quarter with another impressive drive, covering 53 yards with Demetri Simmons scoring from a yard out for a 21-0 lead.

Berkeley got a huge break late in the third when Goose Creek’s punt attempt hit the blocking back and rolled backwards, setting the Stags up at the Gators’ 27-yard line. Chisolm then hit Butler with a touchdown pass on the first play, cutting the Goose Creek lead to 21-7 with 36 seconds left in the third.

Mouzon quickly changed the momentum with a 64-yard kickoff return to the Berkeley 27. A few plays later, Mouzon grabbed a Mukuamu throw, broke a tackle and raced 37 yards for a touchdown, pushing the lead to 28-7 with 11:11 left in the game.

However, a long kickoff return and 15-yard penalty set the Stags up at the Goose Creek 20. On the first play, Chisolm found Butler for a 20-yard touchdown pass, again trimming the lead to two touchdowns at 28-14 with 10:53 to play.

The Stags stopped Goose Creek on fourth down at their own 27 and responded with a 73-yard drive that ended with a third touchdown pass from Chisolm to Butler. The extra point was no good and Goose Creek held a 28-20 lead with 6:15 remaining in the game.

After securing the onside kick, Mukuamu scored on a 7-yard run to up the lead to 35-20. Chisolm and Jakhi Willis combined on a 75-yard touchdown bomb with 1:17 left but, Goose Creek again recovered the onside kick and secured the win.

“I thought a key tonight was our offensive line,” Winstead said. “Berkeley has a great defense. Our line responded to the challenge.”