FORT MILL — South Pointe had won games before. The Stallions had thrown for big yards; played hard defense.
But they did something Friday night they hadn't done in a long time - laugh.
The Stallions jumped out to an early lead in Region 4-AAA with a 26-8 win over Nation Ford, playing the kind of football they thought they were capable of - and playing it without pressure.
"Man, we've been struggling for a long time," South Pointe coach Strait Herron said. "What we've been doing out there has been like drudgery.
"I went to the kids today, and I told them, 'It's time to have some fun, man.' And they took me up on it."
That was a relief, as their season has been marked by some high-profile disappointments en route to a city championship and otherwise solid start.
From the postgame fight with Rock Hill, which resulted in multiple suspensions, to allowing 23 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to lose to Spartanburg, to having to work harder than they anticipated to beat Fort Mill, Herron admitted it has been a struggle.
They paid him back Friday, however, winning in impressive fashion on both sides of the ball.
The Stallions (6-1, 2-0) played salty defense throughout the night, limiting Nation Ford to a late cosmetic touchdown and just 58 rushing yards. They also picked off Falcons quarterback Cameron Wells three times, with Cody Blake, Corey Neely and Buddy Byers doing the honors.
They also threw the ball as well as they have all year.
Junior Devin Pearson was a clean 11-of-18 for 232 yards, accounting for three of the South Pointe touchdowns (two passing, one on the ground). Receivers Montay Crockett (three catches for 128 yards) and JaRyan Jennings (three for 124) each made explosive plays.
But the biggest passing play might have been to their biggest target.
The only score of a tightly-played first half came when Pearson hit sophomore defensive lineman Isaiah Rodney for a 2-yard touchdown pass. The 6-foot-1, 240-pounder was in the game as a blocker, but slipped through the Falcons defense, and the defender behind him wasn't going to get back around.
Rodney, part of the heavy goal line set (called by offensive coordinator Justin Hardin), caught the ball smoothly, and Herron grinned when asked if it took some nerve to throw to a lineman in a tight game.
"Hey, Zeke's a really good athlete, and he's going to be a great player for us, if he's not already," Herron said. "He's got good hands and he runs well, so we figured we'd give it a shot."
That was the last of the offense in the first half. Nation Ford blocked the ensuing extra point, and both defenses took turns teeing off on each other's offenses.
Pearson appeared to have put the Stallions up quickly in the third quarter with a 54-yard pass to JaRyan Jennings, but he was chased down at the Nation Ford 2 by Falcons defensive back Kevin Stewart. That effort was nearly a game-changer, as Nation Ford's defense stiffened, holding the Stallions on three chances - and maybe four.
When Pearson stretched for the goal line on fourth down, there was no immediate signal and Nation Ford began to celebrate. After a quick huddle, officials ruled it a touchdown, creating enough confusion that Nation Ford coach Michael Allen called a time-out before the extra point attempt - either for clarity or a longer chance to yell.
"At that point, I thought we had fought as hard as we could have fought," Allen said. "I have an opinion on what happened, and mine is that we made a stop. Still, at that point it was only 12-0.
"At the end of the day, though, South Pointe was a lot better than us tonight. ... But we're not done. No, no, no."
The Falcons (4-3, 1-1), a week removed from the first region win and first October win in school history, lost some steam on that play, however, and South Pointe capitalized quickly.
No one chased down Pearson's next deep ball, that one to Montay Crockett going 82 yards for a touchdown, giving the Stallions a 19-0 lead.
After a Brandan Barber 1-yard run pushed the lead to 26-0, Nation Ford escaped the shutout when backup quarterback Dalton Helms hit Jay Jay McCullough for a 16-yard touchdown pass and followed with a two-point conversion pass to Dijuan Ussery.
SOUTH POINTE 26, NATION FORD 8
SP - Devin Pearson 2 pass to Isaiah Rodney (kick blocked).
SP - Devin Pearson 2 run (run failed).
SP - Devin Pearson 82 pass to Montay Crockett (Logan Ard kick).
SP - Brandan Barber 1 run (Logan Ard kick).
NF - Dalton Helms 16 pass to Jay Jay McCullough (Helms pass to Dijuan Ussery)
RUSHING - Nation Ford: Brandon Sturdivant 2-4, Daniel Jackson 13-38, Cameron Wells 12-7, Dalton Helms 3-9. South Pointe: Manzey Miller 5-22, JaRyan Jennings 2-22, Brandan Barber 9-97, Devin Pearson 19-44, Tay Hicklin 4-(-2), Diamond Miller 1-4.
PASSING - Nation Ford: Cameron Wells 14-26-3, 150 yards, Dalton Helms 3-5-0, 37 yards. South Pointe: Devin Pearson 11-18-0, 232 yards, Manzey Miller 1-1-0, 44 yards.
RECEIVING - Nation Ford: Andrew Komornik 5-54, Jay Jay McCullough 5-53, Dijuan Ussery 3-49, Daniel Jackson 2-14, A.K. McCoy 1-12, Will Visbeck 1-5. South Pointe: LaKeenan Scruggs 3-26, Logan Yard 1-6, Montay Crockett 3-128, Isaiah Rodney 1-2, JaRyan Jennings 3-124, Tay Hicklin 1-(-10).
RECORDS: Nation Ford: 4-3, 1-1. South Pointe: 6-1, 2-0.