The Banks Trail Middle School eighth-grade football team turned to its defense and a power running game to win the first Fort Mill Athletic Conference championship in a harrowing 8-0 win over Fort Mill Middle School on Oct. 25 at Banks Trail.
The Timberwolves blew out the Yellow Jackets 36-12 in the team’s first meeting on Sept. 13, but neither team could find much offense in the first half, which ended in a scoreless tie.
Both teams played well defensively and had their chances on offense, but couldn’t convert.
Fort Mill had a 40-yard pass play from quarterback Jerrick Foster to receiver B.J. Mallard negated by a holding penalty that killed a late first half drive.
Banks Trail’s 40-yard pass play from quarterback Harrison Wilson to receiver Jacobie Henderson was brought back 15 yards for a block in the back call just before the half, and the Timberwolves would eventually end that drive on an interception by Mallard.
The Timberwolves held the Yellow Jackets to just 97 yards of total offense in the half, but their defense would step up even more after the break.
The Yellow Jackets got the ball to open the second half, but punted it back to Banks Trail, which turned to a power set that featured running back Devin Salazar and Asa Johnson, who is primarily a lineman, but lined up at fullback.
They called eight consecutive run plays with Salazar breaking off gains of 10 and 12 yards and Johnson going for 20 yards before running it in from two yards out midway through the third quarter. Bennett Ives added the two-point conversion to give the Timberwolves the 8-0 lead that would end up being all of the scoring.
“We’ve won every game by 10 points or more,” Banks Trail coach Matt McAteer said.
“We’ve had some close games at halftime, but nothing that was that close. This win shows that we can play any type of game. We’ve blown a lot of teams out – and we blew them out the first time that we played – but tonight, they showed they’re a much better team than we played the first time around.”
The Timberwolves, who improved to 7-0 with the win, dominated on the ground, gaining 157 yards on the night.
Salazar ran 19 times for 100 yards and Johnson added five rushes for 32 yards and the touchdown. The Yellow Jackets’ only second half pass attempt fell incomplete, and Wilson completed 4-7 passes for 85 yards and an interception in the game.
“We had to rely on our running game in the second half,” McAteer siad.
“We couldn’t do the normal stuff that we wanted to against them, but we have that jumbo package in for if we get outnumbered in the box or for short yardage. We went to it because we thought we were better than them up front, but they whipped us in the first half. In the second half we responded.”
While the Yellow Jackets gained 262 yards of total offense, their defense limited Fort Mill to just 127 on the night, and only 32 yards in the second half.
The Yellow Jackets ran 16 times for 42 yards and Foster went 7-21 passing for 85 yards and an interception – although he narrowly missed several deep throws that could have been game changers – and ran seven times for 30 yards.
The Yellow Jackets had their chances late in the second half.
On fourth down and two from inside their own 24 yard line, Foster scrambled, but was cut down short of the line by Salazar.
The Timberwolves couldn’t capitalize on that drive and gave it back to the Yellow Jackets for their final chance.
With just under three minutes to play, Henderson stepped in front of a receiver to intercept a Foster pass. On the ensuing drive, the Yellow Jackets converted a fourth and two with a run by Salazar, and was able to go into victory formation the rest of the way to secure their first conference title.
“In the second half we played really well, but the score didn’t indicate our defense in the first half because they could have had 14 points on us,” McAteer said.
“In the second half we really stepped it up. We told them at halftime that we can’t give up the big plays, so we did a much better job of that in the second half and I’m really proud of how we played.
“It took a few years off my life, but I’ll take the ugly win every day.”