After J.T. Sanders’ first look as a featured back last week at South Pointe resulted in 200-plus yards and three scores on nearly 30 carries, one wondered what he might do for an encore.
The senior answered that question early in Friday’s first-round SCHSL 4A playoff matchup. Sanders rushed for five first-half touchdowns, including three from 42 yards, leading his Cougars to a 55-14 victory Friday night at the Cougar Den.
“I think we’ve found his natural position,” York coach Bobby Carroll quipped after the contest. “He ran well. I’m proud of him. The offensive line, I think, did well. That’s a good first playoff game. That was a good night for the whole team.”
The teams traded scores over the first two minutes, as Airport (3-8) ran back the opening kickoff, followed by a quick drive from York to tie the contest. York went on to score 27 unanswered points in the period, before a Justin Allen pass to Brandon Caughman on a 17-yard double-reverse pass put Airport back on the board with 3:47 to play in the opening half. The Cougars scored twice more in the final minutes to take a 48-14 advantage to the break.
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The second half was played with a running clock, and York’s stingy defense kept up its stellar play. The Cougars limited the Eagles to just over 100 yards of total offense on the evening.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Carroll said. “Our coaches work extremely hard, regardless of whether we’re playing South Pointe, whether we’re playing the Patriots, or whoever we’re playing, they work just as hard every week. (I’m) really proud of the whole team.”
The outcome was largely decided early, but the key moment came on the Cougars’ first drive. After Airport’s Nanders Lawrence sprinted 89 yards to the house on the opening kickoff, York bounced back with a five-play, two-minute drive to quickly answer the challenge. Sanders’ first 42-yard scoring jaunt capped that drive, tying the game and giving York the first of its seven scores on seven first-half possessions.
York’s ground game proved too much for the Eagles to stop, especially early. York (9-2) tallied over 465 yards of first-half offense, with over 300 of those yards coming on the ground. The Cougars had seven first-half rushes for double digits, with five of those ending in scores.
Sanders scored on half of his 10 carries on the night. The senior cracked the 140-yard mark, before York put in its second-teamers. Shaq Harris provided a great complement on the ground, rushing six times for 135 yards, including a 92-yard touchdown scamper. Cougar quarterback Tanner McKinney connected on 12-of-16 throws for 222 yards, including a touchdown throw to Zion Walker. York tallied nearly 600 yards of offense against the Eagles, with much of that coming in the first half.
“I just like (carrying the load),” Sanders said. “This never would have happened if it wasn’t for the (offensive) line, so shoutout to them.”
Lawrence’s kickoff return provided the significant big play for the Eagles. Allen’s touchdown throw to Caughman came on a nifty double reverse, one of several executed on the night by Airport.
York will travel to top-seeded Greenville next Friday. The Raiders defeated Blue Ridge Friday night. The second-round playoff contest is slated for a 7:30 p.m. start.
York 55, Airport 14
Airport 7;7;0;0;-; 14
York 21;27;7;0;-; 55
A – Nanders Lawrence 89 kickoff return (Paxton Brooks kick) 10:47
Y – J.T. Sanders 42 run (Beck Johnston kick) 9:47
Y – Sanders 42 run (Johnston kick) 5:56
Y – Sanders 42 run (Johnston kick) :37.1
Y – Sanders 5 run (Veni Santios kick) 10:03
Y – Shaq Harris 92 run (kick failed) 8:06
A – Brandon Caughman 17 pass from Justin Allen (Brooks kick) 3:47
Y – Harris 19 run (Johnston kick) 1:12
Y- Sanders 9 run (Johnston kick) :06.9
Y – Zion Walker 17 pass from Tanner McKinney (Santios kick) 2:52
RUSHING Airport: Addan Poston 8-14, Brandon Caughman 7-6, Josh Goodman 2-(minus 2), Jemarcus Pugh 4-8, Justin Allen 1-10. York: J.T. Sanders 10-143, Shaq Harris 6-135, Ladarius Allison 2-19, Tanner McKinney 1-8, Kadir Taylor 2-3, Jimaraye McNeal 4-19, Jeremiah King 6-6.
PASSING Airport: Caughman 5-10-1-59 yards, Allen 1-1-0-17 yards. York: McKinney 12-16-0-222 yards, Gabe Carroll 2-3-1-24 yards.
RECEIVING Airport: Zach Roberts 1-8, Poston 1-4, Omari Melidor 3-47, Caughman 1-17. York: Allison 6-97, Sanders 1-25, Mitchell 3-64, JQ Guinn 1-19, Zion Walker 1-17, King 1-3, Rylan Blackmon 1-21.
RECORDS Airport 3-8, York 9-2.