The Clover Blue Eagles needed to get a win in Region 3-AAAA, and they got one with a surprising 21-14 upset against favored Rock Hill at District Three Stadium last week.
Playing with confidence and swagger, the Blue Eagles tamed the Bearcats from the outset.
With Coby Hamblen pounding the Bearcats defense behind crisp blocking by Clover’s offensive line, the Blue Eagles built a 21-0 lead with more than eight minutes remaining in the third quarter.
“Winning a close game in the region is big for a team that’s been experiencing growing pains,” head coach Chad Smith said. “The win over Rock Hill validated some things about our program.”
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The Bearcats defense had no answer for the 5-foot-11, 188-pound Hamblen. The senior wingback rushed for 125 yards and two touchdowns, including a 70-yard touchdown scamper four minutes into the second half.
“I grabbed a lineman and he led the way,” Hamblen said of the game-changing play. “I got into space and thought Rock Hill defenders were chasing me, but they weren’t,” he said. “It was a great feeling scoring on a 70-yard run.”
Hamblen said the coaches rotate wingbacks, keeping fresh ball-carriers in the game in the double-wing attack.
Hamblen credited the linemen for his efforts. “They pave the way for us,” said Hamblen.
Senior tight end Barret Courtwright, a 6-foot, 234 pounder, is one those linemen.
“I am a blocking tight end,” said Courtwright, not to be confused with a pass-catching tight end. “We work on blocking technique at practice to open things up for our wingbacks.”
Courtwright said making space for the Blue Eagles running backs is a source of pride among the offensive linemen.
“If Coby can gain 100 yards, we’ve helped with the 100-yard gain by doing our job,” he said.
Smith has had words of praise for the offensive linemen all season. “Our offensive line is doing a good job,” said Smith. “They have been a big part of our success offensively.”
Playing mistake-free ball, the Blue Eagles had a productive first half that carried over to the second. After a fumbled handoff on Rock Hill’s initial possession, Clover ran a seven-play drive capped by Hamblen’s 17-yard touchdown run to grab the early lead.
Behind junior quarterback Noah Lindsay, the Blue Eagles picked up huge yardage in an 11-play scoring drive in the second quarter.
R.J. Moore scored on a 16-yard touchdown run to push the visitors ahead at the half.
To their credit, the Bearcats mounted a rally in the fourth quarter on the strength of quarterback Brandon Bank’s touchdown passes of 15 yards to Tim Sherer and 40 yards to Thailand Adams.
But it wasn’t enough, as the Blue Eagles held on for a confidence-building win.
Next up for Clover is another trip to District Three Stadium to play the Northwestern Trojans at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17.
“Northwestern is an elite program,” said Smith. “They are like Gaffney and Summerville, a team capable of winning the state championship every year.”
With the win against Rock Hill, the Blue Eagles have leapfrogged into the playoff mix.
“We need two wins in our last four games to make the playoffs,” Smith said. “We can control our own destiny.”
After the game against the Trojans, the Blue Eagles will return home for back-to-back games with Gaffney on Oct. 24 and Nation Ford on Oct. 31 before closing out the regular season Nov. 7 at York.