Coby Hamblen scored on the longest touchdown run of his career Friday night, and it proved to be the winner for Clover as the Blue Eagles knocked off Rock Hill 21-14 at District Three Stadium.
Hamblen rushed for 125 yards and two touchdowns on the night, and it was his 70-yard burst after squirting through the other side of a tackling scrum that put the visiting Blue Eagles up 21-0 with 8 minutes, 41 seconds left in the third quarter.
“It was jammed up, jammed up and all (of a) sudden it just opened wide; I hit it full sprint,” said Hamblen afterward. “I couldn’t believe it ‘til I got to the sidelines.”
Clover (2-5, 1-1 in Region 3-4A) was nearly in cruise control by that point, but Hamblen’s scramble would prove crucial as the Bearcats (3-5, 0-3) scored twice in the last six and half a minutes of the game, and had a shot into the end zone as time expired. Brandon Banks’ pass flew through a Clover defensive back’s hands and hit a Bearcat receiver right in the mitts, but he had too little time to adjust and the ball fell incomplete.
“Our kids executed well,” said Clover head coach Chad Smith. “Homecoming might have got to Rock Hill a little bit, but don’t take anything away from our kids. They punched them in the mouth and got the job done.”
It was another case of “what if?” for a Bearcats team that finds itself in a sudden slide.
“We didn’t get off the bus ready to go,” said Rock Hill coach Bubba Pittman, whose team dropped its third straight game. “Made mistakes early, fumbled the ball second play of the game. Didn’t convert on some big plays early, that’s been our Achilles’ heel all year. We’ve got to do those things to win the game.”
Pittman will have been even more disappointed with the result after his kids produced a spirited comeback try in the last eight minutes of the game. The Bearcats capped off a nice drive with a touchdown when Banks dropped the ball off to Tim Sherer, who scooted into the end zone from 15 yards out to make it 21-7 with 6 minutes, 29 seconds left in the game.
Clover picked up a first down, but the Bearcats held their ground and forced a punt. On a busted coverage in the Clover secondary, Rock Hill receiver Thailand Adams found himself wide open and he caught a 40-yard pass from Banks for the touchdown, cutting the deficit to 21-14 with 2 minutes, 53 seconds left.
The hosts’ vision of a glorious comeback fizzled late when Banks’ bomb into the end zone fell incomplete. The fact the game was even that close would have surprised anyone that watched only the first 30 minutes of game action.
The first half was the stuff of Smith’s pigskin fantasies, as Clover ran the ball 23 times for 111 yards and two scores, and didn’t turn the ball over. The Blue Eagles seized upon Rock Hill’s miscues, including a fumbled handoff on the home team’s first possession. Clover took over near midfield and ran seven plays, Hamblen’s 17-yard jaunt around the left end capping the drive with a touchdown.
Early in the second quarter the visitors partially blocked a Rock Hill punt, then ripped off an 11-march that ended with R.J. Moore racing into the end zone through a caved-in right side of the Bearcats’ defensive line. The point-after made it 14-0 with 4 minutes, 52 seconds left in the half. That lead lasted into the intermission after the Blue Eagles defense bowed up on a Rock Hill fourth down in the visitors’ red zone, Banks’ throw missing its mark.
Clover’s biggest play came four minutes into the second half. The Bearcats were a couple times guilty of trying to tackle linemen, or scrums of linemen, allowing Blue Eagle backs to wriggle free for big gains. Hamblen, who also was in on a number of tackles, ripped off a 70-yarder to silence the home crowd.
“Coby’s our team captain for a reason,” said Smith. “He’s a great team leader, probably had the game of his life tonight, and it was a good Homecoming for us.”
After Rock Hill’s final Hail Mary fell incomplete, Clover could exhale. But there was no Gatorade bath or crazy celebration. A team that’s now had six of its seven games decided by eight or fewer points is well-used to the scent of a win. Friday night, Clover could finally sink its teeth into one.
“We need to learn how to finish,” said Hamblen, “but we definitely got some fight in us.”