Clover unleashed five years of rivalry frustration Friday night, building a three-score lead in the first half en route to a 25-22 win over York. The Cougars had won five straight in the series but had no answer in the first half for the powerful Blue Eagles, who stayed perfect on the season at 5-0.
“It was good for the program,” said senior fullback/defensive end A.J. Pennington. “We’ve been looking to get a good win on the board in the area around us. Good win for everybody.”
Clover players were thrilled with the win, but more than a few seemed peeved that the Cougars nearly came back and stole another win.
“They understand we’re a good football team,” said Clover coach Chad Smith. “We’re a good football team that has a hard time winning, but we win. It doesn’t really matter how you get it done, as long as you get it done.”
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York (1-4) looked beaten and dead midway through the second quarter, but the Cougars have been a second half team all season for whatever reason, and showed it again Friday. Bobby Carroll’s team scored twice in a span of less than a minute in the fourth quarter, Paul Moore scoring from a yard out before the Cougars recovered the ensuing onside kick. Jae’vion Matthews then scored on a 14-yard catch and run into the end zone to make it 25-22 with three and a half minutes left.
Clover’s nerves calmed when the next onside kick was recovered but the Blue Eagles missed a field goal after driving down to the York 13. The Cougars hurried down the field, Ethan Mitchell hitting Ladarius Allison for a 33-yard gain, but Clover’s Hayden Milley intercepted Mitchell’s pass with 11.1 seconds left to set off wild celebrations.
York’s onside kick recovery with 4 minutes, 10 seconds left sparked a furious ending. Smith had wondered if his team would be able to handle the emotional weight of the rivalry after a hands-worth of consecutive losses but they came up with a game-winning stop inside the last minute, which may convince some that thought the Blue Eagles were merely profiting from an easier non-region schedule. Milley watched Mitchell’s eyes and stepped in front of a pass to seal a win that earlier had looked like a mere formality.
The Blue Eagles mustered just four touchdowns total in five straight losses to the Cougars, but the visitors had three by halftime Friday night in a dynamic start.
“We knew we had to turn it on,” said Pennington. “York’s a good program and we knew they would turn up the intensity.”
Clover repelled York’s first drive into the Blue Eagle red zone, with the help of a missed field goal, then chugged 80 yards in 14 plays to take the lead on a 1-yard touchdown dive by QB Garrett Miller.
"Really should have gone down there and scored and this thing could have been totally different," said Carroll. "It took the wind out of us. We couldn’t stop them in the first half.
Clover was unquestionably bigger and badder for the first 17 minutes Friday night. The Blue Eagles forced a punt then scored on a 10-play drive, converting a fourth down at midfield before Semaj Lakin punched in the first of his two touchdowns, a 5-yard effort. York went 3-and-out and Clover made its rival pay again, Lakin tip-toeing down the left sideline before hitting a straightaway for a 48-yard scoring run and a 22-0 lead.
“We had a lot of success running our plays, but we’ve got to continue to execute and pick up the mistakes in the second half,” said offensive lineman Jack McGivern. “It’s just about keep being us, keep pounding up front.”
Lakin was huge for Clover, especially since standout fullback Willy Clark left the game midway through the first quarter with a sprained ankle and didn’t return. Lakin finished with 14 carries for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
“He stepped in and did his job and that’s what we’re all about,” said McGivern.
Chase Griffin filled in directly for Clark, running the ball 11 times for 77 yards.
Paul Moore had 130 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries for York. Mitchell was 25-of-33 passing for 182 yards.
York begins region play next week, turning the page on a tough non-region slate with a home game against Richland Northeast.
Clover will look to continue its unbeaten run when it opens Region 3-5A play next week at home against Nation Ford. McGivern said Clover had two goals: beat York and make the playoffs. The first has a line scratched through it and pursuit of the second begins next week.
Clover 25, York 22
CHS - Garrett Miller 1 run (2-point run failed), 2:24
CHS - Semaj Lakin 5 run (Lakin 2-point run), 7:13
CHS - Lakin 48 run (Lakin 2-point run), 4:59
YCHS - Paul Moore 5 run (Myles Prosser kick), 1:17
CHS - Nick Sciba 32-yard field, 1:17
YCHS - Moore 1 run run (2-point pass to Tyquan McCray good), 4:15
YCHS - Jae’vion Matthews 14 pass from Ethan Mitchell (Prosser kick), 3:31
RUSHING CHS: Connor Owens 11-32; Garrett Miller 3-3; Semaj Lakin 14-109; Willy Clark 2-17; Chandler Huskey 3-8; Darrell Darling 1-9; Chase Griffin 11-77; A.J. Pennington 7-29; Luke Trowbridge 2-7. YCHS: Paul Moore 11-130; Joe Wade 2-4; Tyquan McCray 3-5; Ethan Mitchell 11-4; Shandon Cobb 1-16; Jae’vion Matthews 1-5.
PASSING CHS: Miller 1-1-0, 9 yards. YCHS: Mitchell 25-33-1, 182 yards; Cobb 1-1-0, 1 yard.
RECEIVING CHS: Jackson Parrish 1-9. YCHS: Cobb 6-58; Ladarius Allison 6-51; Matthews 8-57; Moore 2-1; Shaq Harris 2-7; Ke’Trael Lytle 1-7.
Records: Clover 5-0; York 1-4.