This first down, this first drive looked set to start out the way so many Clover football offensive possessions do, a tightly bunched wing formation and a likely short gain on the ground about to ensue. But the play, and Friday night's game against Lancaster, was anything but normal for Chad Smith's Blue Eagles.
Quarterback Scott Jackson took the snap and instead of pitching to one of his wingbacks, he tucked the ball, dropped back and then lofted a pass to Elijah Plummer, as wide open as a Montana highway. 66 yards later, he scored.
And about two hours later, something even more unusual than a Clover touchdown pass happened; the Blue Eagles (1-7, 1-3 in Region 3) won their first football game in 26 tries, beating the Bruins (2-6, 0-4) 42-21 to snap the state's longest Class AAAA barren stretch.
I thought it might be open so we ran it, executed it well, said Clover coach Chad Smith about his team's opening offensive play. Scott made a great throw and Elijah Plummer hauled it in and took off.
The stunning score had an immediate impact on Clover's confidence, on the team's belief that it could snap the unseemly streak, on a suddenly buoyant sideline.
It..., running back Ladarius Adams paused. It sparked us. That's all I'm gonna say.
Plummer's touchdown catch caught Lancaster, heck, everyone, off guard, but more importantly put the Blue Eagles on the front foot, imperative for their run-based operation. In the second half, Clover's offensive line, including, among others, Charles McClure, Barrett Courtwright, Harrison Gibson, Wade Bradley and Jacob Church, began to chew up the Bruins' beleaguered defensive front, eventually piling up 304 yards on the ground. Clover hadn't filled the role of aggressor in well over two years, but it felt good.
It felt like we were playing our game, Adams said. We were pounding it.
I can't say enough about our offensive line, said Smith, a former offensive lineman himself. Our kids, they finally got over the hump; they made plays tonight.
The Blue Eagles' running attack helped overcome Lancaster receiver Jay Hood. The junior made seven catches for 161 yards and a pair of touchdowns and kept the Bruins close in a game in which they struggled from the get-go.
But Clover had its own standout in Adams. The senior ran the ball 28 times for 132 yards and a touchdown, and caught another touchdown, one of three through the air for the normally stuck-to-the-ground Blue Eagles.
It was Adams' 10-yard catch on a halfback pass from Colby Hamblen that gave Clover some breathing room. The touchdown capped a five-minute drive to open the second half, and put Smith's team ahead 28-14.
Later in the fourth quarter, tight end Landon Harkey caught a 28-yard TD on another nice play-action fake by Jackson to put Clover up 35-14. Thirteen seconds later, Hood hauled in a pass over the middle of the Blue Eagle defense in stride and ran 80 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 35-21, but Clover was able to salt away the game with a final scoring drive highlighted by third and fourth down conversions.
We've known we've been getting better all year, but this is finally a reward for our kids more than anybody, Smith said. They've endured. I'm very proud of them.
After the win, the Clover faithful jubilantly exhaled, and there were more than a few iPhone photos snapped of the scoreboard, a glowing memory to squirrel away. Almost all, maybe all, of Clovers players had never tasted a varsity football win, the last of which came Sept. 9, 2011. What do you do after a big victory?
We got South Pointe next week, Adams said with a laugh.
You move on to the next one.
Clover 42, Lancaster 21
LHS 7;7;0;7 - 21
CHS 7;14;7;14 - 42
CHS Elijah Plummer 66 pass from Scott Jackson (Adam Edmunds kick)
LHS Will Jackson 7 run (Trevor Latham kick)
CHS Tanner Whitley 5 run (Edmunds kick)
CHS Chase Galant 1 run (Edmunds kick)
LHS Jay Hood 15 pass from Kendarius Truesdale (Latham kick)
CHS Ladarius Adams 10 pass from Coby Hamblen (Edmunds kick)
CHS Landon Harkey 28 pass from Jackson (Edmunds kick)
LHS Hood 80 pass from Truesdale (Latham kick)
CHS Adams 5 run (Edmunds kick)
RUSHING LHS: Will Jackson 6-16; Kendarius Truesdale 9-40; Kadarius Wright 1-3. CHS: Ladarius Adams 28-132; Tanner Whitley 7-28; Chase Galant 8-74; Scott Jackson 3-6; R.J. Moore 4-21; Zach Conrad 5-19; Nate Morrison 1-2; Colby Hamblen 2-22.
PASSING LHS: Truesdale 8-21-2. CHS: Jackson 5-6-0; Hamblen 1-1-0.
RECEIVING LHS: Jay Hood 7-161; Austin Franceschelli 1-16; Wright 1-(-2). CHS: Elijah Plummer ENTER; Landon Harkey 1-28; Galant 1-(-2); Adams 1-10.
RECORDS LHS 2-6, 0-4; CHS 1-7, 1-3
Bret McCormick • 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T