Friday night was supposed to be celebratory for Rock Hill High School, as the Bearcats fondly remembered the undefeated 2002 state championship team during halftime. But visiting York let the air out of the party balloon, returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown en route to a 35-7 win.
“Hats off to the defense,” said York coach Bobby Carroll. “They played hard, and they didn’t score on our defense so we’re proud of our guys.”
York’s defense stifled Rock Hill, shutting out the Bearcats’ offense and forcing four turnovers. Heading into the halftime celebration, Joe Montgomery’s team had one yard of offense and they ended up with just 92 total yards, surprising after back-to-back weeks of prolific production in close losses to Dutch Fork and Boiling Springs. The Cougars caused Rock Hill many problems, but it was their push up front that continually forced Bearcat quarterback Josh Erby to scramble for daylight. Often, he didn’t find any.
“We didn’t block well up front off the corner,” said Montgomery, whose team threw three interceptions. “And made bad throws. That’s what pressure does to you.”
Rock Hill (1-4 overall, 0-1 in Region 3-AAAA) had beaten the Cougars each of the last five times, and 12 out of the last 13, but they encountered an undefeated York (5-0, 1-0) team with the statistically stingiest defense in the area. They also got a firsthand taste of the athletes on Carroll’s squad. Tay Neely caught seven passes for 198 yards and Markel Castle added seven catches for 100 yards, highlighting a passing game with real potency, while Daurice Simpson showed off the team speed the Cougars possess. He gathered in the opening kickoff and blew through a narrow channel for an 85-yard touchdown with only 14 seconds ticked off the clock to put York up 7-0. Some folks were still picking up their popcorn.
A minute later, Rainey Moore intercepted Erby, setting up York for a field goal try from 33 yards that clanged off the upright. It was a brief reprieve for the home team.
A Beau Nunn sack forced Rock Hill to punt and after a nice drive from midfield, Lee Wright scored the first of his two touchdowns on a one-yard plunge to make it 14-0, after Buddy Anderson’s point-after sailed through.
York added to the lead in the second quarter, going ahead three scores. A partially blocked punt gave the Cougars cushy field position and Spencer Carroll, who threw for 370 yards and a touchdown, capped off a 48-yard drive with a one-yard keeper to make it 21-0 heading into halftime.
The cameo of Rock Hill’s dominant 2002 team did little to spur the Bearcats. On Rock Hill’s first drive, the Bearcats twice threw incompletions on third and 1 and fourth and 1, before punting again even after a roughing the kicker penalty gave a dead drive new life. York’s penalties, 16 of them, seemed to be the only thing keeping Montgomery’s team in the game at times.
“I’m proud of the way our defense played. The only thing for me was too many penalties, stupid penalties,” Carroll said. “We’ll work on them and watch the film and see what’s going on.”
Rock Hill’s defense finally put points on the board in the third quarter and offered the crowd a glimmer of hope. T.J. Halsey picked off a Carroll pass near the 35-yard line and took it in for a touchdown to cut the York lead to 21-7 with 2:19 left in the third period.
But Rock Hill fumbled and threw an interception on its next two offensive drives, and the Cougars responded duly with a strong march to squelch any comeback. On fourth and 9 at the Bearcats’ 16, Carroll hit Castle for a 14-yard gain, and Wright punched in from two yards several plays later to make it 28-7 with nine minutes left in the game.
That score broke the Bearcats backs for good, and Castle added one more for good measure with 7:37 left. Simpson looked to have scored his second touchdown of the night with a short catch turned into a 61-yard scoring run, but it was called back for an illegal block. Carroll found Castle wide open over the middle on the very next play to pour salt on the wound though.
Montgomery was glum afterward: “I thought defensively we played better tonight than we had in the last couple of games, but we just had five turnovers, so it didn’t mean much.”
The victory gave York its best start since the 1984 season, while the win over the Bearcats was the Cougars’ first since 2006, the last year they beat all three Rock Hill schools in the same season. And though Carroll was annoyed by the penalties his team committed, there was a bittersweet note to the 129 penalty yards: it was 37 more than they allowed Rock Hill’s offense.
York 35, Rock Hill 7
York 14 7 0 14 – 35 Rock Hill 0 0 7 0 – 7 Scoring summary
YCHS -- Daurice Simpson 85 yard kick return (Buddy Anderson kick)
YCHS -- Lee Wright 1 run (Anderson kick)
YCHS -- Spencer Carroll 1 run (Anderson kick)
RHS – T.J. Halsey 35 interception return (Harrison Dixon kick)
YCHS – Wright 3 run (Anderson kick)
YCHS – Markel Castle 34 pass from Carroll (Anderson kick)