For the second straight week, the Nation Ford Falcons used a second-half outburst to get an important Region 4 win as they beat their rivals, the Fort Mill Yellow Jackets, 20-13 to close out the regular season sharing a third of the region championship with Northwestern and Rock Hill.
The Falcons (5-5, 3-1) were looking to continue their streak against Fort Mill (4-6, 1-3), having won three of the last four games, including the last two. Nation Ford hoped it could win the region title, knowing it had to take care of business on the road across town at Bob Jones Stadium.
Early in the game, Jackets quarterback JT Marr found Ryan Heriot for a gain and a 15-yard penalty against Nation Ford got the home team near the red zone. But a missed field goal attempt ended the threat.
Late in the second quarter, Nation Ford got its offense clicking and got to the 17-yard line of Fort Mill with about 37 seconds left in the half. Nation Ford completed four straight passes, capped by quarterback Ben Tuipulotu connecting with Caleb Starnes on a 21-yard pass to break a scoreless tie.
Fort Mill started the second half and drove down to the 10-yard line of the Falcons where Marr would hit Grant Stevens for a touchdown pass to get the Jackets back in the game.
With about five minutes left in the game, Tuipulotu threw a short out pass to Dewuan McCullum who turned it into a 34-yard touchdown reception to put Nation Ford up 20-7.
“We made some adjustments at halftime defensively,” said Falcons head coach Michael Allen, whose team took the region’s No. 3 seed. “Offensively, we committed to the run.”
Fort Mill’s Stevens picked off Tuipulotu midway through the second quarter, which gave the ball back to Fort Mill near midfield. But the Yellow Jackets weren’t able to capitalize and turned the ball over on downs. Stevens later blocked Nation Ford’s extra-point attempt near the end of the half for Fort Mill.
The Falcons also had a critical interception from Petey Tuipulotu in the fourth quarter giving them the ball back with about 8:25 left.
Ben Tuipulotu passed for 115 yards and ran for another 70 yards, while Nathan Mahaffey ran for 96 yards for Nation Ford as well. For Fort Mill, Ryan Heriot caught nine passes for 88 yards and Marr passed for 148 yards in a losing effort.
Both teams are in the playoffs and will be matched up against a team from Region 2. Fort Mill travels to Hillcrest next Friday, while Nation Ford goes to Greenwood in the first round of the 5A state playoffs.
Nation Ford 20, Fort Mill 13
Nation Ford 0;6;7;7;-;20
Fort Mill 0;0;7;6;-13
NF - Caleb Starnes 21 pass from Ben Tuipulotu (kick blocked), 28.4
FM - Grant Stevens 10 pass from JT Marr (Kyle Romenick kick), 7:06
NF - Nathan Mahaffey 2 run (Skyler DeLong kick), 57.7
NF - Dewuan McCullum 34 pass from Tuipulotu (Carter Richardson kick) 4:58
FM - Bartow Keller 5 pass from Marr (kick failed), 58.9
First downs 18;15
Passing yards 115;148
Fumbles/lost 1-0; 0-0
RUSHING Nation Ford: Ben Tuipulotu 29-70, Nathan Mahaffey 19-96, Dewuan McCullum 3-20. Fort Mill: JT Marr 4-8, Ryan Heriot 15-62, Grant Stevens 1-(-3), Jackson Randall 3-35, Shayne Boyle 2-10.
PASSING Nation Ford: Ben Tuipulotu 8-16-1 115. Fort Mill: JT Marr 16-35-2 148.
RECEIVING Nation Ford: Nathan Lovette 2-13, Dewuan McCullum 3-58, Caleb Starnes 2-32, Harrison Cohen 1-12. Fort Mill: Ryan Heriot 9-88, Grant Stevens 3-33, Bartow Keller 2-11, Drew Hartman 1-9, Shayne Boyle 1-7.