COLUMBIA -- As Nation Ford gathered for its postgame talk for its season finale, it began to drizzle at Columbia's Memorial Stadium. For the Falcons however, the drizzle symbolically felt more like a deluge as they lost to Keenan 53-7 Thursday evening.
Maybe the flood washed away the bad taste. Despite the loss, Nation Ford has built a solid foundation for a first year program. After another year of training, conditioning, and learning coach Rusty Jester's system, the Falcons are poised to make drastic improvements in 2008.
Despite playing without any seniors, the Falcons managed three wins on the year and were just one or two plays from picking up a couple of other victories. Jester left Fort Mill High School after just one year to build a program from scratch; there is no doubt he has laid the foundation for future success.
The Falcons played Thursday's game with a heavy heart, as their minds were on their leader Jester, who missed the game tending to a family illness. The team found out about Jester's absence just hours before the game. Dick Gresham filled in for Jester, taking over coaching duties.
Along with Jester, Nation Ford also missed co-starting quarterbacks Mitchell Starnes and Joey White and star running back Tony Hall.
Freshman Thomas Condric filled in at the quarterback position, completing five passes for 73 yards, including a scoring strike to Isaiah McCrorey. Under constant pressure all night, Condric produced a gutsy performance that will prove as valuable experience.
With three key players and their coach out for the game, things went sour early for the Falcons. Keenan also happened to save its best game for last, playing on senior night before the home crowd.
After receiving the opening kickoff, the Raiders took just six plays to open the floodgates. Quarterback Antonio Perry found Arthur Goforth streaking down the left sideline for a 46-yard touchdown pass and the rout was on.
Nation Ford took over on offense, but the Raider defense forced the Falcons to a quick three-and-out, starting a pattern that would last through the first half.
Goforth's 116 yards receiving and Charles Brice's 164 yards rushing paced the Raiders to a huge 41-0 lead at intermission.
Nation Ford had just one first down in the first half, and finished the first two periods with its total offense in the red, but the Falcons refused to quit.
The Falcons showed a ton of heart, coming out with enthusiasm and scoring on their opening drive of the third period. Condric found McCrorey, who had blown past the cornerback, for a wide-open 37-yard touchdown pass.
Nation Ford nearly recovered an onside kick, but the ball bounced off Daniel Davis' fingertips and the Raiders recovered, but the Falcons held their own for the remainder of the game.
Needing just 45 yards after the half to reach a thousand for the season, Keenan kept pounding away with its rushing attack. Brice finished with 220 yards and four touchdowns on the night.
"Keenan exploited our mistakes," Gresham said. "We are a very young team and it was tough for us to handle the turmoil and emotions for coach Jester. I am proud of our kids; we played much better in the second half.
"Some say the only good things that come from a first-year program are new equipment and no mistakes to correct from the previous season. But I think we progressed as a team this year and we are excited to start getting ready for next season."
Nation Ford 0 0 7 0 -- 7
Keenan 21 20 12 0 -- 53