With two minutes left in the fourth quarter of Saturday night’s contest between Northwestern and South Pointe, it seemed as if the game was ready to burst at its proverbial seams.
A big play was going to come. One had to. For too long at District Three Stadium, the most recent chapter of one of Rock Hill’s special high school football rivalries had been characterized by dip-and-dunk passes, two yard rushes into the line, tackles for loss — and punts.
Come the final minutes of the fourth quarter, however, the stage was set for Northwestern to change the game’s narrative. The Trojans started what turned out to be their final drive on their own 19 yard line, down 17-14.
Junior quarterback Riley Duran completed a pass that moved the chains. He then took four more snaps out of the shotgun, his eyes set downfield, his arm slinging the ball into the South Pointe secondary. He was searching for the big play that had eluded him and his team all evening.
But it never came.
The clock soon ran out, and the Stallions escaped Saturday night with a win over the Trojans in their season opener. 17-14.
Head coach DeVonte Holloman, who is in his first season at the helm of the South Pointe football program, said that the absence of the big play on Saturday night was a product of “sound defense.”
“I think at this time of the year, the defense is always a little bit ahead of the offense,” Holloman said. “We need to get back to the drawing board, find out what our identity is on offense and establish what we’re good at.”
The first half had more scoring than the second — but neither team established a rhythm on offense early. The scoring started with South Pointe, after senior quarterback Tahleek Steele orchestrated a 10-play drive that ended in a field goal.
Northwestern would respond with 14 unanswered points — the first score a two-yard run by sophomore receiver Tay McCroey; the second a 29-yard catch by senior Ger-Cari Cadwell, who was able to secure the football even though he got hit as he caught it.
South Pointe would then retaliate late in the second quarter to pull the game’s margin to three points. Senior Quay Chambers, who ended his senior debut with 63 yards and two touchdowns rushing, capped off this drive with a six-yard touchdown run.
Come halftime, the two teams had punted six times and only had three plays result in 20-plus-yard gains.
The only score after halftime came when the Stallions were able to exploit a short field and punch one in with their running back again. The score came with 4:30 remaining in the third quarter.
Field position changed with every second-half punt, which was by virtue of the team’s good punters, strong winds and lucky bounces — but the score didn’t budge again after the Stallions’s rushing touchdown in the third.
Northwestern head coach Page Wofford said that South Pointe’s defensive line caused trouble for his offense in the second half.
“That third quarter kind of took it out of us — when they scored the touchdown and we couldn’t move the ball,” he said. “It got into the fourth quarter, and they just came after us pretty tough, and we couldn’t handle their pressure.”
South Pointe was able to get pressure on its opposing quarterback with only three on the line, which allowed its secondary to cover some of the Trojans’s go-to receivers.
Northwestern’s Duran completed 11-of-25 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown. His favorite target was Caldwell, who notched 67 yards and a touchdown on Saturday night.
South Pointe’s Steele completed 19-of-29 passes for 165 yards and an interception. He also added 21 yards on the ground.
“Offensively, we got a little bit more work to do, just trusting our offensive line a little bit more,” Holloman said. “I thought we ran the ball in the second half a lot better.”
This game wasn’t pretty: It was one decided largely by field position — each coach calling on its punter over five times. There weren’t any points added to the scoreboard in the fourth quarter.
And, of course, come the game’s last meaningful drive, the drought of Saturday night’s ever-elusive “big play” was never quenched.
But Holloman said he is OK with that. Or at least, by virtue of exiting Saturday with a win, he’s chosen to look at the lack of a big play as a positive.
“I give the game ball to my defense and my defensive staff for doing a good job finding what works for us,” he said, “and our defensive players for playing their hearts out.”
Northwestern will host Byrnes and South Pointe will host Rock Hill on Friday, Aug. 30. Kickoff times are set for 7:30 p.m.