An incessant fog/haze cast a dreamy effect over the Rock Hill-Laurens playoff football game Friday night at District Three Stadium.
What happened on the artificial turf was no dream, but very real.
Rock Hill won a playoff football game for the first time since 2008, beating the Raiders 51-30 and prolonging a season that’s revived the best memories of longtime Bearcat fans.
Was there any defense in this game? Certainly not in the first half. When the fog settled at halftime, the two sides combined for 60 points, split evenly 30-30.
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Laurens led 9-0 after a snap sailed over the Rock Hill punter’s head and was kicked out of the end zone (safety) and a slick one-handed Jackson Mahon TD catch.
Rock Hill scored the next nine, Narii Gaither taking a desperation dump-off 67 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown, before Laurens fumbled an option pitch out of the side of its end zone to make it 9 all.
Neither team led by more than a touchdown the rest of the way, and each took a turn in front.
The Bearcats scored last to tie it at 30, Cam Walker getting open in acres of midfield space then outrunning the chasing Raiders for a 70-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
Laurens drove down the field with methodical ease early in the second half, but the Raiders spun out largely because of a cut block penalty. Chris Liner’s team was flagged four times for cut blocking, and each one seemed to mortally hurt a Raiders’ offensive possession.
“We felt like we could move the ball on them and in this style offense,” said Liner, “it’s hard when you get behind because then they can just pin their ears back and come. We had a couple of really bad penalties that hurt us.”
Rock Hill’s halftime shift in defensive mentality won the game. Pittman said there wasn’t any huge shift in scheme.
“Defense goes in at halftime and talks over some things and decides they’ve got to play some big boy football and put their hands on some people’s faces,” he said. “There wasn’t a great speech, it was just ‘hey man, do your job.’”
Rock Hill’s QB Jackson had a strong game, especially running the football on third down plays to extend several drives. He also threw for 297 yards and four touchdowns.
“He did a good job throwing it, found the open guy, made some big time throws,” Pittman said.
Gaither topped 100 yards rushing for the ninth time in 10 games this season. He finished with 22 carries for 127 yards and three touchdowns. He also had a 67-yard catch-and-run touchdown down the left sideline in the first half.
Duane Martin was a difference-maker for the Raiders, whether the 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior was smashing through the Bearcats’ defensive line as Laurens’ fullback in a wing offensive formation, or making a diving first half interception while playing middle linebacker.
Rock Hill will face Gaffney in next week’s 5A second round, at District Three Stadium.
“We’re gonna take on Gaffney in the Rock!” said Bearcats safety Nick Ervin, relishing the thought. “I’m ready for that game.”
Laurens;16;14;0;0 - 30
Rock Hill;16;14;7;14 - 51
LHS -- safety, 10:09
LHS -- Jackson Mahan 21 pass from Ryan Campbell (Devon Hubner kick), 8:19
RHHS -- Narii Gaither 67 pass from Hayden Jackson (Ethan Dutton kick), 4:17
RHHS -- safety, 3:48
RHHS -- Gaither 1 run (Dutton kick), 1:27
LHS -- Duane Martin 1 run (Hubner kick), 0:26
RHHS -- Jackson 10 run (Dutton kick), 7:29
LHS -- Campbell 12 run (Hubner kick), 5:50
LHS -- Martin 7 run (Hubner kick), 2:46
RHHS -- Cam Walker 70 pass from Jackson (Dutton kick), 1:16
RHHS -- Tay Anthony 34 pass from Jackson (Dutton kick), 5:00
RHHS -- Gaither 2 run (Dutton kick), 10:41
RHHS -- Antonio Barber 29 pass from Jackson (Dutton kick), 2:52
RUSHING LHS: Shamare Dendy 6-90, Jordan Woodruff 6-38, Duane Martin 11-73, Ryan Campbell 11-55. RHHS: Tay Anthony 1-(-1), Narii Gaither 22-127, Hayden Jackson 9-51, Noah Thompson 7-41, Raphael Wright 1-14.
PASSING LHS: Campbell 9-18-0, 124 yards. RHHS: Jackson 13-22-1, 297 yards.
RECEIVING LHS: Jackson Mahon 1-21, Deonja Brown 3-51, Mark McGowan 2-27, Will Tinsley 2-21, Zachariah Miller 1-4. RHHS: Mekhi Durant 2-21, Antonio Barber 5-71, Anthony 1-34, Thompson 1-13, Gaither 1-67, Cam Walker 2-78, Wright 1-13.
RECORDS Laurens 4-7; Rock Hill 8-2.