Glistening emerald turf was the best-looking thing on the Memorial Stadium field Friday night in Lancaster.
The Bruins and Nation Ford’s high school football teams sputtered and started, jumped and hiccuped, huffed and puffed and generally labored to produce effective football.
Somebody had to win.
Nation Ford did, 14-7.
“I think it gives our team a little bit of confidence, it creates more character, which is what we need,” said Nation Ford coach Michael Allen, whose team missed four absent starters. “Create a family-type environment where we step in and take care of our brother when they’re down.”
Nation Ford (1-3) led 14-7 after a first half best described as... unsightly. The two teams combined for 15 flags, while 19 incomplete passes slowed the clock’s progression to a crawl at several points. Nation Ford scored first, Falcons rookie QB Dominic Campo running a convincing play-action fake before dumping a 2-yard TD pass to a wide open Nathan Lovette.
Lancaster (1-3) evened the score with a 72-yard clock-devouring march, Kemarkio Cloud spinning into the end zone from 10 yards to make it 7-7. Offenses largely ground to a halt from there, though Nation Ford flipped the field on the Bruins thanks to a towering Skyler DeLong punt, then scored on a 12-yard strike to Caleb Starnes with 6 minutes, 48 seconds left first half.
Neither team scored in the third quarter, though Lancaster had the ball for 10 of the 12 minutes. The clock ticked away in the fourth quarter and on fourth and 1 at the Lancaster 34 Nation Ford left its offense on the field. Nathan Mahaffey ripped off a 21-yard run up the gut, churning his legs for the first down that killed off the game and clinched the Falcons’ initial 2017 victory.
Nation Ford’s lone turnover of the night, a fumble on Lancaster’s 2-yard line, gave the ball back to the hosts with 4 minutes, 56 seconds remaining, plenty of time for the Bruins’ run-based offense. Cloud raced 27 yards on first down and Lancaster looked in business. But a penalty - the two teams combined for 26 flags and over 200 penalty yards - stalled Lancaster and the Falcons defense forced a punt. Nation Ford’s offense then picked up two first downs to ice the win.
Nation Ford’s punt team, spearheaded by DeLong’s powerful leg, was the difference. The Falcons turned the ball over constantly in three losses to open the season, meaning they didn’t get enough chances to use DeLong, the Alabama-committed kicker, to flip the field. That changed Friday night.
“Our punt team did very well tonight,” said Allen. “Changed the field on occasions, gave our defense a chance to get stops deep and then we were able to get good field position on the punt return for our offense. Also took some pressure off Dom.”
Nation Ford thought it had made a breakthrough at the troublesome quarterback position the previous week against York, but Ben Tuipulotu was suspended for Friday night’s Lancaster game because of a late hit he delivered against the Cougars. Campo was solid in his first varsity start, completing 22-of-33 passes for 232 yards and becoming the first of the Falcons’ five QBs this season to make it through a game without tossing an interception.
“I thought he did a great job,” said Allen. “He moved the ball around, got it to the play-makers’ hands, kept his composure. He had a couple of hiccups in there with the ball a few times but I think overall, for his first varsity game, I thought he did a pretty good job.”
DeLong pinned the Bruins inside their 10-yard line three times, including twice in the first half, and added a 55-yard punt in the second half. He also kicked several touchbacks.
“It feels great to be able to go out there, punt good, drop bombs on them and get a team win,” said the senior.
Cloud led Lancaster’s rushing attack with 101 yards and a touchdown and sophomore defensive tackle Immanuel Bush was a force up front, constantly in Campo’s face.
Lancaster heads down the road to Lugoff-Elgin for its final non-region game while Nation Ford’s last non-region action of 2017 takes to the Falcons to Indian Land.
Nation Ford 14, Lancaster 7
Nation Ford;7;7;0;0 - 14
Lancaster;7;0;0;0 - 7
NFHS - Nathan Lovette 2 pass from Dominic Campo (Carter Richardson kick), 6:12
LHS - Kemarkio Cloud 10 run (Jacob Cato kick), 0:47
NFHS - Caleb Starnes 12 pass from Campo (Richardson kick), 4:26
RUSHING NFHS: Ghari Page 9-23; Dominic Campo 3-(-9); Nathan Mahaffey 8-36; Team 1-(-9). LHS: Kemarkio Cloud 13-101; Ke’Daivdion Talford 4-13; Asont’a Clark 7-18; Ben Rivers 2-6; JiQuan Stover 9-48; Zack Truesdale 1-6.
PASSING NFHS: Campo 22-33-0-2, 232 yards. LHS: Cloud 3-16-0-0, 40 yards.
RECEIVING NFHS: Harrison Cohen 6-78; Caleb Starnes 5-73; Petey Tuipulotu 1-1; Nathan Lovette 7-71; Mahaffey 1-11; Page 2-(-2). LHS: Truesdale 2-24; Christian Woodard 1-16.
RECORDS Nation Ford 1-3; Lancaster 1-3.