First to two wins in Region 4-5A essentially clinches a playoff spot.
That’s the reality in a five-team league that doesn’t play enough games for teams to spread out in the standings. Fort Mill, Clover and Rock Hill all finished 1-3 last year, and it was the Yellow Jackets that missed out on the postseason due to an odd tie-breaker, despite beating Clover.
Ed Susi’s Yellow Jackets and Bubba Pittman’s Bearcats both got on the board with a region win last week. They play this week knowing the Region 4-5A team with two wins to its name can start thinking about the postseason.
“Same thing Bubba’s telling his guys, you know you’ve got to get to two wins, at least,” Susi said Tuesday. “You want to control your own destiny. The kids know that, just like the Rock Hill kids know that.”
Highlights from Fort Mill’s win over Clover last week:
Both teams are fresh off morale-lifting wins. Fort Mill overcame an injury to one of its star players, two-way player Grant Stevens, thanks to game-winning efforts from Sebastian Lach, who played Stevens on offense, and Lawrence Adams, who played Stevens’ linebacker role.
Rock Hill, losers of five straight before last week, overcame a 14-point deficit against Nation Ford to rip off 36 straight points and get a welcomed win.
“It was refreshing,” said Bearcats QB Logan McFadden.
“It woke us all up,” junior linebacker Narii Gaither said. “Losing those hard games... we played good teams, too.”
Key to Rock Hill’s effort, senior running back Des Buchanan had his fifth 100-yard game (out of seven), scoring three touchdowns. The Bearcats have been known as an Air Raid team under Pittman but that’s shifted some this season.
“Bubba’s running the ball more because that kid’s a stud,” said Susi. “What that does to your offense, it just makes it harder to defend.”
“He’s a monster,” said Gaither, who gets plenty of chances to tackle Buchanan in practice.
“He can’t be stopped,” added McFadden. “It brings the whole defense in, it opens up the passing game.”
Check out highlights from Rock Hill’s win against Nation Ford:
The offensive balance will be wobbled a bit with the news that Bearcats sophomore Antonio Barber, the fifth-leading receiver in the area, suffered a long-term ankle injury. Barber, a burgeoning college prospect, had two of Rock Hill’s four 100-yard receiving games this season. Wan Crockett and Justain Patterson, who had the other two, will need to step forward in Barber’s absence. They can look to Fort Mill’s effort last week as a model.
Barber’s injury may mean even more touches for 5-foot-10, 192-pound Buchanan, who has had a great senior season and is well on his way to surpassing 1,000 yards. His strength is finishing runs, according to Susi. Look at the senior’s highlight touchdown runs this year and many of them have begun with a weak initial tackle effort that he barged through en route to open grass and the end zone.
Buchanan was one of just five seniors in the Bearcats’ starting 22 last Friday. Can Rock Hill reproduce its winning effort against Nation Ford for a second straight week? It’s a big ask for a program that last won back to back games in October, 2013. It gets bigger against a revved-up Fort Mill squad eager to avoid getting mired in another season-ending tie-breaker.
“Ed does a great job,” said Pittman. “He gives you a million different formations and his kids play so hard. Ed gets them ready to go and they’re hard to defend because they do so many different things. We’ve got our work cut out for us, for sure.”