FORT MILL — Fort Mill has had a big brother-like headlock on Nation Ford since the two schools started their intra-city football rivalry in 2007. Even when the Yellow Jackets labored through 1-10 seasons in 2008 and 2009 they beat the Falcons, and with a possible playoff berth on the line when the two teams square up on Friday night, Ed Susis team has no plans to lose its first to Nation Ford.
We definitely want to keep it going, said junior tailback Deryan Sanders. If we do lose to a team, we dont want it to be Nation Ford.
The Yellow Jackets (6-4 overall, 3-3 in Region 3) have won two straight games heading into Friday nights visit to Nation Ford (7-3, 4-2), a school enjoying its best-ever season of varsity football. Michael Allens Falcons have wrapped up a playoff spot, while Susis crew sits in fifth place in the region and badly needs to win to increase its odds of postseason involvement as one of a small number of Class AAAA wildcards. The already important rivalry game has taken on some additional weight.
Our job is to make sure our kids keep focused on the game, and not all of this other stuff, said Susi. They know they need to beat Nation Ford to make the playoffs, and thats our goal.
Ignoring the rivalry hype isnt easy for teenagers, but Fort Mills players understand there are more important goals.
Yeah, you think about it, said the teams low-key quarterback Rylan Wells, but youve just gotta put it behind you and treat it like any other game.
Wells also pointed out that his senior class not only wants to make the playoffs, but also win their first postseason game something the school hasnt done since 1998 under Greg Thomas. That goal is in danger and the Yellow Jackets find themselves in a must-win position Friday because of four regular season losses.
But the combined record of the teams that beat Fort Mill is 32-8, and three of those York, South Pointe and Northwestern are ranked in the states top-10. The fourth, Dutch Fork, is 7-3 and headed to the playoffs as well. If strength of schedule was considered in playoff qualification, Susi knows his team would already be penciled in the bracket.
If you look at our losses and look at our region, he said, Im gonna fight for us, Ill tell you that.
In Nation Ford, the Yellow Jackets face the kind of team that has given them trouble defensively. The Falcons are led by quarterback Dalton Helms, punishing running back Daniel Jackson and quicksilver receivers AK McCoy and Dijuan Ussery. McCoy is the third-leading pass-catcher in the area with 51 grabs and more than 1,000 yards through the air, and he can turn a short pass into light bulbs on the scoreboard within several blinks.
We know weve got to try and take away, or limit, some of the big plays they have on offense, Susi said Wednesday afternoon. We cant let them run free and when they get in space, weve got to make tackles.
The Yellow Jackets also need to start and finish better than they have through 10 games this season. Fort Mill has been outscored 75-52 in the first quarter this year, and 90-58 in the fourth quarter. Theyre winning the middle two periods by a healthy margin, but the slow starts and poor finishes have taken their toll. Key for Susis club will be pounding the rock early and often, establishing offensive rhythm in the first quarter and keeping the quick-strike Falcons offense parked on the sideline.
Fort Mill uses a modified wing offense with spread sets sprinkled in to run behind a pressure-tested, physical offensive line of Ryan Tankersley, Zach Dulcie, Cooper Clegg, Scott DeMayo and Sam Smith. In the second half of the season, Sanders has made the most of the holes carved open by the big front five comprised of four seniors and a junior. With senior running back Tony Godbolt banged up, Sanders has emerged as a viable and dangerous option in the Yellow Jackets backfield.
The shifty junior had 112 yards rushing and two touchdowns on just 10 carries during last weeks blowout of Clover, in addition to four catches for 144 yards and another two scores. That followed his effort in the previous weeks win over Lancaster when he racked up 227 yards rushing and two more touchdowns. Sanders has 640 yards rushing, 293 receiving and 246 in punt and kickoff returns this season for a total of 1,184 yards, or 118 per game, and 11 total touchdowns.
Its great because Tonys been banged up, said Susi. For Deryan, it just gives him more confidence and thats what you want your running back to have.
Sanders was already in the Yellow Jackets starting lineup as a slot player, making his transition to the primary ball-carrying position almost seamless.
It surprised me, said Sanders of the shift to the forefront of Fort Mills offensive game-planning. When (Tony) got injured, I got more carries, so its just a blessing to be able to help the team out.
Expect a heaping spoonful of Sanders and Wells pounding into the Nation Ford front Friday night behind a veteran Yellow Jacket front eager for a shot at an elusive playoff win. Susis players were light and bouncy on Wednesday before practice, bearing the look of a team with a postseason seed wrapped up. Do they think theyre a playoff-caliber team?
I think we are, I really think we are, said Sanders. Out of the three years Ive been here, this is the best team Ive been on so far.
Fort Mills players and coaches broke down before Wednesdays windswept practice, and team captains shouted, Who are we? The rest of the squad responded JACKETS, JACKETS, JACKETS. Friday night will provide a firmer answer.
High school football notes
Playoffs start Friday for Classes A through AAA
Emerald at Chester: Chester won Region 3-AAA last week after a loss by Woodruff, and the Cyclones (6-4) start their playoff journey at home this Friday night against Emerald (5-5). The winner of Fridays tilt will meet the Chapin-Greenville winner the following week.
Indian Land at Newberry: Indian Land qualified for the Class AA Division I postseason despite a 1-9 record, and will travel to Newberry (7-3) Friday night looking for an upset. Should the Warriors pull off the surprise, theyd travel to Columbia (5-5) in next weeks second round.
Great Falls at Calhoun Falls: Great Falls (4-6) takes on a similar opponent Friday night at Calhoun Falls (4-6), a team that also employs a smashmouth style of football. The winner of that first round matchup in Class A Division II will face the winner of Hunter-Kinard-Tyler and Ridge Spring-Monetta next week.
St. Josephs at Lewisville: The Lions (8-2) are back in the Class A Division I playoffs with a winning record for the first time since 2009, and their journey gets underway Friday night with a tricky home game against St. Josephs (7-3). The winner advances to face either C.A. Johnson or No. 1 seed Christ Church.
Hartsoe, Graham inducted in York Hall of Fame Friday night
York Comprehensive High School will induct two new members into the York School District One Athletic Hall of Fame Friday night during the schools 100th matchup against rival Clover. Kenny Hartsoe and Gene Graham will join the Cougar all-time ranks in honor of their years of supporting the school.
Hartsoe has served on the schools chain crew for 43 years, missing a grand total of four varsity football games during that time. Graham has championed the Cougars, and the Green Dragons before that, in the York Enquirer-Herald for over 50 years as a sports writer. Both Hartsoe and Graham attended York and played sports there.
Bret McCormick 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T