In pregame interviews, head coaches always emphasize that special teams are just as important as offense and defense.
That is often dismissed as coach-speak, but on Friday night at The Reservation in Indian Land, it proved to be true.
The Rock Hill Bearcats scored 13 points via the kicking game — in addition to a safety on defense — to gain a hard-fought victory over the Indian Land Warriors, 22-12.
“Special teams and defense,” Rock Hill coach Bubba Pittman said. “They answered for us tonight. Indian Land had a good game plan. They made it a tough, physical, old-school game.”
Ethan Dutton had field goals of 20 and 28 yards in the first half, and the score was tied 6-6 at halftime.
The Warriors drove 98 yards in the last three minutes of the half to tie the score on Jonathan Starkey’s 21-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Cooley in the front left corner of the end zone with 43.2 seconds left. The extra point attempt failed.
Starkey was 16-for-26 for 184 yards and two touchdowns in a fill-in role as both Indian Land’s starting quarterback and running back were out. Cooley had 65 yards on eight catches.
On the Bearcats’ first drive of the third quarter, Tommy Neff scored on a 27–yard touchdown run on fourth-and-three to give Rock Hill a 13-6 lead. The Bearcats had lined up Dutton for a 44-yard field goal attempt but Pittman called timeout and decided to go for it.
“The touchdown on fourth-and-short was huge,” Pittman said.
Neff had 119 yards on 20 carries. Later in the quarter, Thomas Rainey and Maurice Bonneau teamed up for a sack and safety to make it 15-6.
On the ensuing kick, Anthony Jackson returned it 60 yards for a touchdown that opened the lead to 22-6 and seized all the momentum for the visiting Bearcats. Starkey hooked up with A.J. Jefferson for a 20-yard score with 9:57 left to cut it to 22-12.
Starkey was shaken up on the play and Miegwel Lewis had to come in for the two-point conversion to try to make it a one-score game. Lewis tried to run it in but was brought down short of the end zone.
It was a game of field position and defense all night. The contest was played largely on the Indian Land side of the 50 as they repeatedly started inside their own 20-yard-line — five times to be exact: including the one, two, and three respectively.
The Warriors’ best starting field position all night was their own 24-yard-line. Five times Rock Hill started drives in Indian Land territory.
Rock Hill will host York next week, while the Warriors will be home against Nation Ford.