ROCK HILL — South Pointes 45-7 walloping of Cane Bay last week in the first round of the Class AAAA-DII football state playoffs signified a team back at the races. Strait Herrons club has cruised in four of its past five games, but it was that anomalous fifth game, a 31-17 loss to York South Pointes only defeat this year that still rankles the Stallions collective hide.
Almost everything went wrong that night for South Pointe (11-1). It turned the ball over four times, including two that went for York (10-2) defensive touchdowns, had twice as many penalties as the visiting Cougars, and were just generally sloppy. The game has played vividly on the Stallions minds as they prepare to face York again Friday night in the second round.
We knew we were gonna face a pretty strong opponent pretty early in the playoffs, said Herron. Yes, our players are ready. They want to go take back something they feel was taken from them. But at the same time, its not them, its anybody. It wouldnt matter who were playing, we would want to play well.
There were several phases where the Stallions played well against York, chiefly the run game. South Pointe racked up 217 yards on the ground, but the Cougars were able to make Herrons team one-dimensional. Standout quarterback Devin Pearson was making his first start after missing three games with a broken bone in his left hand. York wasnt the ideal first opponent to face upon returning.
Pearson labored to complete 9 of 23 passes for 103 yards, while throwing two costly picks. Lee Wright returned the second, desperately shoveled away to avoid a safety, three yards for a back-buckling touchdown in the third quarter. Pearsons non-throwing hand was heavily bandaged in a cast and he may have had some trouble controlling the football while avoiding an ever-present York pass rush.
Herron thought the problem wasnt just turnovers, but mistakes in general. Dont turn the ball over, especially where youre gonna give them good field position or free points. Weve got to do a better job of gaining field position. Theres a lot of aspects weve got to correct this time around.
South Pointe was able to advance the ball by running, but couldnt get the knockout punch down the field. Sophomore DeShawn Davis had four grabs for 75 yards, but the Stallions top receiving threat, lithe 6-foot-4 senior P.J. Heath, was limited to a catch. In the second half when Yorks run defense stiffened, the Stallions faced long third downs, and they werent able to move the chains. They punted on their first three drives of the second half before Wrights interception touchdown on the fourth drive. When South Pointe fell behind, it had to throw even more, with Pearson completing just 5 of 16 passes in the second half. It was a ruthless circle.
Were a running team, thats what we want to do first, said Herron. Everybody knows that. We believe that in order to run the ball, you do have to pass it. I dont think we were very effective throwing the ball in the first meeting, so that is something were gonna have to do better.
Herron clarified, adding, it doesnt mean we have to do anything different. We hope that Devin has a little better game, feels a little more comfortable, and that our receivers can run good routes and get open.
South Pointe looked markedly different in last weeks blowout of the Cobras. Cane Bay stacked the tackle box, hellbent on stuffing a Stallions run game that averages 225 yards per game, and offensive coordinator Justin Hardin and South Pointe took advantage, passing for 268 yards with no interceptions. Pearson completed 17-of-21 passes for two scores, one of his best games of the season, no question.
Was it the same quarterback from the York loss under center? Not really, since this Pearson was shorn of the cast that caused him problems against the Cougars, and knocked free of the rust accumulated after sitting out three mid-season games because of the injury.
I think he started to feel the flow of the game the way that he does a lot more last week than in weeks past, Herron explained. So hopefully, hes gaining his feet and the mental aspect of playing quarterback, hopefully hes gaining all that back now.
With Pearson comfortable, Heath too excelled. He caught 10 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown in each half and showed the threat he can be when the Stallion passing game is clicking.
He has sneaky speed, Herron said about the receiver who has a team-high 55 catches for 685 yards this season. We like throwing the ball to him, because usually if you get it close, hes gonna catch it.
Davis, a reliable pass catcher on underneath routes, is another weapon, as are Kyle Boldt, Jonathan Hall, and Anthony Johnson, who has seven touchdowns on just 21 catches, but has missed several games with a concussion. His status for Friday is uncertain.
Regardless of who lines up on the flanks, Pearson and Heath will need to fire on all cylinders Friday night if South Pointe is to keep the York defense honest and give its running game room to operate. The Cougars dictated the games flow in the teams first meeting, but Herron doesnt expect that to happen twice.
Few teams do that to South Pointe in the playoffs. The Stallions are 17-3 in postseason play since the schools first playoff qualification in 2007, under current York coach Bobby Carroll. That reputation is something Herron think his team may lean on a little too much at times, something that wont help them when the lights come on.
Were almost spoiled here with the wins weve had, Herron said. Its tough to go into a situation where you dont get the win, but once you get to the playoffs our kids turn on a different mentality. We just hope thats what we get that this time. We need to play with our heart, which we havent done in several games this year. Thats gotta come in order for us to produce on Friday.
Bret McCormick 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T