By Mac Banks
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A missed field goal that went wide left by the Clover Blue Eagles in the last second of the game allowed the Nation Ford Falcons to hold on to a 23-20 win in their opening game of Region 3-5A play.
Clover (4-3, 0-1) came into the game with the top two receivers in the area -- Heze Massey and Zion Robbins. The two have snagged nearly 60 passes between them for 915 yards and six touchdowns. That also put their quarterback Gabe Carroll as one of the top area passers with 1,643 yards passing and 13 touchdowns. Stopping those two receivers were key for the Falcons’ defense, which at times struggled stopping the run.
“Defensively I have no idea how we did it,” said Nation Ford head coach Michael Allen. “At times offensively we kept shooting ourselves in the foot. We did make the plays offensively when we had too.”
Nation Ford (3-3, 1-0) came out on their first series and went straight after Clover like a team possessed. They ran the ball five times and threw it twice to get on the scoreboard in under two minutes through a 20-yard touchdown run by Falcons’ quarterback Wayde Prince.
Clover’s offense sputtered on its first two drives, the second ending in a safety when Nation Ford’s Harrison Cohen sacked Carroll in the end zone to extend the Falcons’ lead.
Clover’s 13-play drive in the second quarter resulted in a 35-yard field goal.
Clover was able to put together a touchdown-scoring drive to open the second half, as the visitors went 77 yards in seven plays. David Hall pounded the ball in from seven yards out. Later, Hall ran 75 yards for a touchdown to put the Blue Eagles in front, but Kaleb Starnes’ TD catch in the fourth quarter proved the game-winner for Nation Ford.
After getting the safety, Clover kicked off to the Falcons’ Dewuan McCullum who took the ball 65-yards to the end zone to hit the Blue Eagles with a double punch to the gut and take a 16-0 lead with both the safety and touchdown talking only about 10 seconds off the clock.
The Nation Ford defense had two key stops against Clover in the red zone, resulting in a safety and an interception, which really could have made the came closer in the first half. Clover also didn’t get Massey or Robbins involved as much as they had wanted, and Nation Ford’s success in slowing those two helped the Falcons overcome their own offensive struggles. They had just four first downs in the second half.
Prince passed for 159 yards for Nation Ford, while the Falcons kept the ball on the ground often and were led by Nathan Mahaffey, who rushed for 64 yards. For Clover, Carroll passed for 212 yards and connected on his first seven attempts in the game. He went 22-for-32 in the game. Hall caught seven passes for 89 yards to lead the Blue Eagles and also rushed for 192 yards on 17 carries.
Clover hosts Northwestern at home next week, while Nation Ford squares off with crosstown rivals Fort Mill.
Nation Ford 16;0;0;7;-23
NF - Wayde Prince 20 run (Quinn Castner kick), 10:09
NF - Safety, 3:52
NF - Dewuan McCullum 65 kickoff return (Castner kick), 3:42
C - Austin Clark 35-yard field goal, 9:44
C - David Hall 7 run (Clark kick), 9:37
C - Clark 27-yard field goal, 6:36
C - Hall 75 run (Clark kick), 57.9
NF - Kaleb Starnes 39 pass from Prince (Castner kick), 11:50
First downs 21;12
Passing yards 239;159
Fumbles/lost 2-0; 2-1
RUSHING Clover: David Hall 17-192, Gabe Carroll 7-(-34), BJ Tims 6-21, Nygle Biggers 2-17. Nation Ford: Nathan Mahaffey 20-64, Wayde Prince 9-18.
PASSING Clover: Gabe Carroll 22-32-2 212; Jaylin Lane 1-1-0 27. Nation Ford: Wayde Prince 13-17-0 159.
RECEIVING Clover: Heze Massey 3-48, Zion Robbins 1-17, Jaylin Lane 3-24, Nygle Biggers 1-4, David Hall 7-89, Blackmon Huckabee 6-42, BJ Tims 2-15. Nation Ford: Dewuan McCullum 3-53, Nathan Mahaffey 2-9, Nathan Lovette 1-12, Quinton Jackson 2-23, Daeviaen Qwiy 1-8, Petey Tuipulotu 1-12, Kaleb Starnes 2-41, Harrison Cohen 1-1.
RECORDS Clover 4-3, 0-1 Region 3-5A; Nation Ford 3-3, 1-0.