While dealing with the effects of two expulsions, three one-game suspensions and two players out due to injury, the Clover High School football team fell at Northwestern 42-7 last week.
The holes in the Blue Eagles’ depleted lineup took a toll against the defending state-champion Trojans, who are perched atop the Region 3-AAAA standings and ranked No. 8 in the state in last week’s South Carolina Writers Poll.
“Some of our kids made bad decisions and it was dealt with,” said Clover head football coach Chad Smith.
“It’ll be good for the long-term, not as good for the short-term,” Smith said. “The kids know they need to do things the right way or pay the price. We’re ready to move on.”
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Tanner Michael Whitley, 17, was charged with marijuana possession at school Oct. 14, according to a York County sheriff’s report. Whitley was one of two players kicked off the team after coming to school last week allegedly under the influence of the drug, school officials said.
Three other players were suspended from Friday’s football game against the Trojans “for violation of school and team rules,” said school district spokesman Mychal Frost. The names of the other players involved were not released by the school.
With the one-game suspensions lifted and the return of injured players Cody Payne and Jordan Hall, the Blue Eagles will have five players in the lineup who weren’t available against Northwestern when Gaffney visits Memorial Stadium on Oct. 24.
Though he was disappointed in the loss to the Trojans and the margin of victory, Smith said, there were positives.
Smith said several players from the junior-varsity team stepped up, including Tanner Tolson at fullback. “Tanner will not return to the JV team,” said Smith.
He credited Hayden Milley and Luke Throwbridge with outstanding play against the Trojans, and “offensive guard Garrison Love played a fantastic game,” he said.
Shifting his thoughts to the upcoming game against Gaffney at Memorial Stadium, Smith said the game has playoff implications for both teams.
“If we win, we would be tied for fourth place with Gaffney in the region,” he said.
A win also would give the Blue Eagles a playoff-selection advantage over Gaffney because Clover would have beaten the Indians head-on.
“We can clinch a playoff berth by winning two of our next three games,” Smith said.
After Friday’s game, the Blue Eagles then hope to put a scare into Nation Ford when the Falcons come to Clover on Oct. 31.
Clover’s regular-season finale is Nov. 7 at York.
Smith said he refuses to be fooled by Gaffney’s subpar record this season. “They are a very athletic team and very big,” he said.
“Gaffney has great tradition,” he said. “They always have talented players. They are a dangerous team that’s played a brutal schedule.”
Smith said Gaffney’s quarterback dictates the team’s chances for success. “When his game is on, they can beat any team they play,” he said.
Gaffney sophomore quarterback Bryson Ward completed 25-of-31 passes for 364 yards in a recent win against Rock Hill. His favorite target is wide receiver Greg Ellis, who hauled in nine catches for 195 yards against the Bearcats.
The senior Blue Eagles duo of Love and offensive lineman Barret Courtwright say they are excited about hosting Gaffney on Friday.
“It is important that we perform well as a unit,” Love said. “We need ball-hawking offensively and to hit them in the mouth. Friday is the start of three big games that could put us in the playoffs.”
“We’ve got big games left with a playoff berth on the line,” Courtwright said. “Our offensive line has to be more physical than our opponent’s defensive front.”
Love and Courtwright said the Blue Eagles seniors need to provide leadership in the next three games.
In the Northwestern game, the Trojans gained the advantage early and expanded the lead in the second half. Quarterback Dupree Hart’s running and passing accounted for the bulk of Northwestern’s offense.
The Blue Eagles got on the board on a nine-yard run by Willy Clark, the team’s rushing leader for the season with 386 yards on 86 carries, including three touchdowns.
With junior quarterback Noah Lindsay directing the double-wing attack, the Blue Eagles have rushed for 1,935 yards and 20 touchdowns.