There aren’t many plays in the playbook for 3rd-and-30, to paraphrase an old saying.
Well, there might be one.
Rock Hill faced that exact situation Friday night, with just a three-point lead and time winding down. The Bearcats snapped the ball to Hayden Jackson, who handed off to Narii Gaither around the left side. Gaither found the edge, took off and ran 73 yards to the end zone to cap a huge night. Gaither’s 200-plus yards and three scores helped guide the Bearcats to a 27-17 win Friday night at Clover.
“You wanna get the football to your best players, first of all,” said Rock Hill coach Bubba Pittman of the play after the game. “We were gonna try to run the football there, and hope that something good would happen. Narii busted out of there, and that’s just him, man. He’s just a great football player.”
The teams played a spirited first quarter. Rock Hill (5-2, 2-0 Region 3-5A) cashed in its first drive on a four-yard run from Gaither that put the Bearcats ahead 6-0. Clover answered back with a nine-yard David Hall touchdown sprint to the right pylon on the ensuing 11-play drive, giving the Blue Eagles a 7-6 advantage. The Bearcats made it two touchdowns in two drives on a 14-yard Noah Thompson run, taking a 13-7 lead.
Clover (4-5, 0-3) put the only points on the board in the second quarter from either side, with Austin Clark drilling a 25-yard field goal to bring to a close a 15-play Blue Eagle drive. That kick sliced the Rock Hill margin to 13-10, which the Bearcats took to the interval.
The score remained the same until Gabe Carroll hit Jaylin Lane in the right corner of the end zone to give Clover back the lead at 20-17 with 8:55 remaining.
The Gaither show then had two final acts left.
The Bearcat senior found the end zone for the second time in the game on the ensuing drive, giving his club a quick answer and helping it regain the lead, 20-17.
Clover got the ball back and quickly marched down the field, reaching a 4th-and-4 at the Rock Hill 43 after a holding call nullified a long Blue Eagle run. As good as the Rock Hill offense was, it was the defense that might have saved the day. Bearcat defensive back Nick Ervin read the route on a long pass down the left sideline, breaking up the throw and giving his team the ball.
“I thought those guys played tough,” said Pittman of his defense. “That’s a really good offense over there. They can do a lot of things well. They’re a really good football team.”
That last drive resulted in a play that will likely live in Rock Hill lore for years to come. Just don’t ask Pittman to draw it up again.
The Gaither run on third down sealed the game. Clover appeared poised to get the ball back and try to at least tie the game, but that run provided a margin from which the Blue Eagles could not recover.
“Gaither, man, he’s an unbelievable player, and he’s definitely a game-changer, and he changed the game,” said Clover coach Brian Lane.
Gaither also played middle linebacker for the Bearcats for a good part of the game, following an injury to middle linebacker Caison Jones. Playing defense seemed to suit the Bearcat star, as well. Gaither recorded a big stop on the first snap on which he appeared at middle linebacker, then looked to say something to his coach. What did he say?
“I think the quote was, ‘I love defense! I love hitting people!’” Pittman said.
Gaither carried 18 times for well over 215 yards, scoring three times. Noah Thompson added 17 carries for 109 yards for the Bearcats. Ervin’s pass breakup helped Rock Hill seal the game.
Carroll had a big night for Clover, throwing for nearly 220 yards and a score to Lane.
Rock Hill hosts Nation Ford next week in Region 3-5A play. Clover is off next week, and will close the season at Fort Mill on Oct. 26.
Rock Hill 27, Clover 17
Rock Hill 13;0;0;14;-;27
RH – Narii Gaither 4 run (kick failed) 8:28
C- David Hall 9 run (Austin Clark kick) 4:28
RH – Noah Thompson 14 run (Colin Muschik kick) 1:44
C – Clark 25 field goal 7:20
C – Jaylin Lane 14 pass from Gabe Carroll (Clark kick) 11:55
RH – Gaither 14 run (Muschik kick) 8:59
RH – Gaither 73 run (Muschik kick) 4:20
RUSHING Rock Hill: Narii Gaither 18-215; Raphael Wright 2-10; Noah Thompson 17-109; Hayden Jackson 2-15; Tay Anthony 1-14; TEAM 1-(-1). Clover: David Hall 11-34; Austin Clark 1-9; BJ Tims 6-19; Gabe Carroll 7-10.
PASSING Rock Hill: Hayden Jackson 4-9-0-83 yards; Antonio Barber 0-1-0-0 yards. Clover: Carroll 25-36-0-216 yards.
RECEIVING Rock Hill: Mekhi Durant 1-24; Thompson 2-35; Anthony 1-24. Clover: Clark 6-40; Heze Massey 5-53; Jaylin Lane 8-92; BJ Tims 4-53; Blackmon Huckabee 1-0; Hall 4-20.
RECORDS Rock Hill 5-2 (2-0 Region 3-5A), Clover 4-5 (0-3).