Nation Ford had never beaten York in the Fort Mill schools previous five years of football. The Falcons had also failed to top Rock Hill in four prior encounters.
But Michael Allens Nation Ford team dropped both of those opponents the last two weeks, setting the table this Friday for a third straight encounter with a school theyve never beaten, Northwestern.
Weve been taking the steps and at some point, some group had to take ownership in the process, said Allen, a gung-ho fireball on the sidelines.
Nation Ford (7-2, 4-1 Region 3-AAAA) started the season well, racing out to a 5-1 record before a 43-14 thumping by South Pointe lowered the Falcons altitude.
An ominous meeting with York loomed the following week, but Nation Ford scratched out a 20-17 win over the previously unbeaten Cougars to revive hopes of a best-ever region finish and the first winning season in school history (Allens team went 6-6 last year).
After edging Rock Hill last week with the aid of a penalty that negated what would have been Rock Hills 92-yard winning touchdown, the Falcons are bracing for the challenge of stopping, or at least slowing, Northwesterns machine-like offense this Friday.
Allen said his team will work on recognizing the Trojans offensive tendencies, but that when it comes down to it, theyll just have to react.
Youre not gonna hold them down, he said.
Theyre gonna move the ball up and down on you. But when you have opportunities to make plays, you have to make plays.
The Trojans have outscored the Falcons 189-67 in the past four games theyve played, so Nation Ford hasnt yet slowed Kyle Richardsons Air Raid attack.
But in this year of unprecedented gridiron success at the school there is reason to hope, and the teams defensive effort the last two weeks was encouraging.
The Falcons held York to 17 points and Rock Hill to 14. Kenny Settle, a senior defensive lineman with a crushing handshake grip, said the key was simply following assignments and knowing schemes.
You just gotta keep them on the field for one more play, he added, because you never know whatll happen.
The Falcons defense has bent and swayed but hasnt buckled in the clutch, a style that has served Allens team well enough so far.
As a coach its a little stressful when people are going up and down the field, but Ill tell you what, inside that 20 our defense has stepped up and made big time plays, he said. They understand that its on their shoulders.
The pressure will definitely be on the Falcons stoppers shoulder pads Friday night.
Northwestern ran 21 more plays than York last week (77-56) and wears down opponents with a relentless short passing attack.
Still, the Falcons have to feel that if the game goes down to the wire, theyll be in a familiar situation.
Nation Ford is 7-1 the last two seasons in games decided by seven points or less.
This group has been battle tested with regards to a close-fought game, Allen said Wednesday. Theyre not nervous; theyre fighting.
As the team has proven its a contender on the field, the support has followed from the community and the school.
Its changed, said Settle, about the atmosphere around the team.
They aint used to winning in football, theyre used to winning in everything else.
Allen said building a culture and support system to accompany the football program was part of the long term goal for Nation Ford.
When I took the program over a couple of years ago, we talked about being all in. From an administrative standpoint, a faculty standpoint and student body standpoint, youre seeing everybody jump in. Its a big family, everybodys supporting us and Im very proud of them.
That was evident Wednesday before the Falcons practice, as Allen made the rounds. Several new stencils had made their way onto the walls of the teams locker room, one saying NAFO U KNOW and another that said ALL IN.
An assistant coach suggested another could be placed on the wall opposite the exit to the field that would simply state WIN.
Thats something Nation Fords 26 seniors would badly like to do the next two weeks.
A pair of regular-season-concluding wins would seal a second-place region finish for the Falcons, as well as a first home playoff game in school history.
Allen said his 12th graders understand their time under the Friday night floodlights is slipping away.
This is their time, this is their memory that theyll never forget, he said.
Northwestern will be tough enough this week, but Nation Fords opponent next week, Fort Mill? Well naturally, the Falcons have never beaten their rivals either.
South Pointe on track for region title
Nation Fords win over York inadvertently handed South Pointe the inside track to the Region 3 title. Strait Herrons undefeated team has handled its business every step of the way, making their matchup Friday night with the Cougars not as critical as it might have seemed last month when York was undefeated.
A win for the Stallions against former coach Bobby Carrolls York squad all but clinches the league championship, since South Pointe already owns tiebreakers over Nation Ford and Northwestern.
Next week, South Pointe, York and Northwestern all play winnable final regular season games.
The Stallions host Lancaster, Northwestern squares off with Rock Hill at District Three and York hosts winless Clover. South Pointe should wrap up the region officially at that point; everyone else will pretty much be playing for seeding.
• Nation Fords leading receiver, AK McCoy, and Northwesterns leading tackler, A.J. McCoy, grew up childhood friends, though they are not related. AK attended Northwestern until his sophomore year when he moved with his mother to Fort Mill, and his stepfather (and teammate Brandon Curetons biological father) William Q Rock Cureton is an assistant coach for the Trojans.
Think if AK runs across the middle Friday night, A.J. will be there to greet him? You know, with a nice bear hug from an old friend?
• Facing Clover this week, Fort Mill has a solid chance of getting back to .500 in Region 3 play.
The Yellow Jackets are 2-3 with region wins over Rock Hill and Lancaster, and 5-4 overall, meaning theyll stand a decent shot at scoring an at-large bid to the Class AAAA state playoffs. A win over Nation Ford in the regular-season finale for both schools would greatly increase the odds of Ed Susis team competing in the second season.
• As the playoff picture begins to firm up, there are still several riveting region battles ongoing, especially down I-85 in Region 2 where Gaffney, Byrnes and Dorman are all tied at 4-1 in league play.
Out of the ruins of a substandard start, Gaffney has rebuilt its season and importantly own tiebreakers over both Dorman, who they shutout 14-0, and hated rival Byrnes, who they handed a first and only loss two weeks ago.
The Indians are surprisingly in the drivers seat if they win their last two against Boiling Springs and Spartanburg.
Bret McCormick 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T