What do you get when two teams stewing over losses to their respective rivals collide? A barnburner, of course. This one featured lead changes, standout defensive end Jadeveon Clowney's first - but not last - carry, and a last-minute finish.
South Pointe quarterback Ta Hicklin's fourth rushing touchdown capped a fourth-quarter comeback as the Stallions pulled out a 34-27 win against the Independence (N.C.) Patriots on Friday.
Independence (0-2), a perennial powerhouse in North Carolina, had two weeks to prepare for South Pointe (2-1). Independence lost to Mallard Creek, 26-6, on Aug. 20. South Pointe, fresh off a 42-20 loss to Northwestern on ESPNU last Saturday, now has two weeks before taking on intra-city rival Rock Hill on Sept. 17.
"We told the players that the first loss can't give you a second one," South Pointe coach Bobby Carroll said. "You have to build a bridge and get over it. This is a first-class win over a first-class program."
Never miss a local story.
Hicklin led the way with 22 carries for 197 yards and he added a passing touchdown. The junior quarterback drew inspiration on Thursday by watching Stephon Gilmore, a former South Pointe quarterback now with the South Carolina Gamecocks.
"He was the starter when I was in ninth grade," Hicklin said. "He's inspired me to work hard and become the player I can be."
Independence used a heavy dose of tailback Nyjee Fleming to take control early.
The Patriots called Fleming's number on five of the first six plays, and again on a fourth-and-one inside South Pointe territory. Fleming broke two tackles and rumbled 32 yards for the game's first touchdown.
The Stallions were held to three-and-out on their first possession, and Hicklin threw an interception on third down on the next drive. Independence's Asante Harris returned the interception to the 3-yard line, and Fleming scored on the next play. The Patriots missed the extra point for a 13-0 lead after one quarter. Fleming had six carries for 58 yards.
South Pointe's Trey Mackey and Clowney sacked Tyler Guest to force the Patriots' first punt in the second quarter. Hicklin then kept the ball on an option play, racing 55 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown.
Independence answered when Guest found Adisa Batten on a slant-and-go route for a 57-yard score, which put the Patriots ahead 20-7.
Hicklin engineered another scoring drive before the end of the half. The Stallions marched eight plays and 73 yards with Hicklin hitting Montay Crockett for an eight-yard touchdown with 39.8 seconds remaining to cut the Patriots' lead to six points at halftime.
Hicklin had 103 rushing yards in the first half. Crockett now has three touchdown catches in three weeks. South Pointe also edged Independence in total yardage, 188 to 175, in the first half.
Coach Carroll put Clowney in the backfield on the second play of the second half. Clowney ran for 15 yards, but Independence's Breon Sturdivant stole the ball and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown.
"We put Clowney there because he rushed for 31 touchdowns as a freshman," Carroll said. "Their kid knocked the football out, but there's no doubt (Clowney) is going to carry the football again."
South Pointe cut the deficit to six points, 27-21, after a 12-play, 58-yard scoring drive. Independence helped prolong the drive by jumping offside on fourth-and-goal. Hicklin capitalized with a 3-yard score. The Patriots marched into Stallions territory on the ensuing possession, but Gerald Dixon sacked Guest for a 12-yard loss on fourth-and-4 to set up the fourth quarter.
South Pointe opened the final quarter with a 10-play drive that reached the Patriots 35-yard line, but stalled with 8:51 left. The Stallions forced a pair of three-and-out possessions for the Patriots and regained possession with 4:12 remaining.
Hicklin connected with Tay Smith for a 28-yard gain on the first play. On the next, Hicklin streaked untouched for a 28-yard touchdown. The Stallions missed the extra point for a 27-27 tie with 3:42 remaining.
That's when James Jackson broke through the line, blocking Jason Connella's punt, giving South Pointe the ball at the 24-yard line with 1:23 left.
"It feels good to make a play," Jackson said after receiving several congratulatory hugs from teammates and coaches in the post-game huddle. "After fumbling the kick-off last week, it's good to make a play and help my teammates."
Hicklin scored for the game-winning touchdown two plays later with 58 seconds remaining. JaRyan Jennings sealed the win with an interception in the final seconds. It capped a wild finish similar to last year's contest, which Independence won 35-32.
"A lot of people thought we were settling for a field goal to end it," Carroll said. "But we continued to run our offense, and Ta broke through for the score. That's by design."
Carroll said he'll give the Stallions the day off Saturday. As for Monday?
"That'll be decided on the ride home," he said. "For now, we'll take this win."
SOUTH POINTE 34, INDEPENDENCE 27
I -- Nyjee Fleming 32 run (Daniel Ward kick)
I -- Fleming 3 run (Kick failed)
SP -- Ta Hicklin 55 run (Ard kick)
I -- Adisa Batten 57 pass from Evan Guest (Ward kick)
SP -- Montay Crockett 8 pass from Hicklin (Ard kick)
I -- Breon Sturdivant 46 fumble return (Ward kick)
SP -- Hicklin 3 run (Ard kick)
SP -- Hicklin 29 run (Kick failed)
SP -- Hicklin 21 run (Ard kick)
Independence; South Pointe
RUSHING -- South Pointe: Ta Hicklin 22-197, Dominique Fergerson 11-31, Montay Crockett 8-15, JaRyan Jennings 4-25, Jadeveon Clowney 1-15, Garrick Mackey 2-4. Independence: Nyjee Fleming 19-86, Evan Guest 3-(-14).
PASSING -- South Pointe: Hicklin 4-11-76. Independence: Guest 12-23-168.
RECEIVING -- South Pointe: Crockett 2-33, Jennings 1-15, Tay Smith 1-28. Independence: Batten 3-95, Fleming 2-19, DeQuan Barnes 4-41, Austin Duke 3-13.
Records: South Pointe 2-1, Independence 0-2.