On Friday night, running back Nathan Mahaffey punctuated a night to remember and deflated his opposition in the same play.
There was just over five minutes remaining in the contest — one point separating Nation Ford and Indian Land. The Falcons set up on their own 30 yard line.
Once the ball was snapped, Nation Ford’s senior and Shrine Bowl representative set up like he was going to block. But just as the Warrior defensive line passed him in pursuit of the quarterback, Mahaffey slipped out of the backfield and caught a screen pass.
He then turned and saw the vast open field in front of him: “Oh man, I knew as soon as I caught that ball, I was gone,” Mahaffey told The Herald after his team’s 31-20 win. “That just did it for us.”
It did indeed.
That 70-yard touchdown reception was the longest and most momentous of the night — but it came from a player that was as steady as a heavy boulder in mud. Mahaffey ended his day with 226 yards and two touchdowns rushing on 27 carries. He also caught two passes for 76 yards and a touchdown.
“As a team, we had a lot more energy than we’ve had in the last couple games,” Mahaffey said. “And we really came together, especially in the last half. It was electrifying, honestly, to see us all come together and do our thing.”
Indian Land was the first to break the game’s ice.
With six minutes and some change remaining in the first quarter, Warrior quarterback Jonathan Starkey found Miegwel Lewis on a slant, and Lewis ran it in for a 38-yard score. A failed PAT attempt put Indian Land up 6-0.
On the ensuing drive, Nation Ford’s engine (Mahaffey) punctuated a five-play drive with a 16-yard touchdown run.
At the end of the first quarter, Mahaffey had touched the ball in 18 of 21 offensive plays.
“He’s got to touch it,” head coach Michael Allen told The Herald postgame. “And we got to block, and he’s got to do his thing. There’s other people on the field as well ... but if they block and Nathan can do his thing, it usually puts us in a good position.”
In the second quarter, Indian Land took advantage of a short field, and T.J. Thomas punched in a five-yard touchdown run.
But whenever Indian Land seemed to take hold of the proverbial wheel, Mahaffey had a response: The very next possession, Mahaffey — in a play where he’d have to change directions in the backfield, make a few defenders miss just past the line of scrimmage and use a stiff arm to seemingly propel him forward — busted a 72-yard scoring run for Nation Ford. 14-14, Falcons.
At the half, Mahaffey had notched 176 yards and 2 touchdowns on 18 carries. And although his touches would decrease, his impact on the game wouldn’t fade.
The teams traded blows for a while in the second half until Mahaffey’s game-changing reception more or less sealed the story of Friday night.
Indian Land head coach Horatio Blades said he was proud of the way his team fought on Friday night — especially considering the fact that his quarterback, Jonathan Starkey, got hit late in the fourth quarter and didn’t return.
“I was telling the kids all week: (Mahaffey) has great vision,” Blades said. “When you shut down his first option, he’s going to find another option, and that’s what makes him a unique back...
“I think the grind of the game, once the injuries started piling up, that’s when the separation started happening.”
Despite Mahaffey’s dominance, Nation Ford seemed to get some sort of production from everywhere on Friday night: Nation Ford’s Jerrick Foster added two receptions for 49 yards and a touchdown, and Petey Tuipulotu had two receptions for 29 yards.
The team’s defense, in fact, forced two interceptions on two of Indian Land’s final three possessions.
“I’m proud of the guys,” Allen said. “I asked them to focus on us, and to focus on Nation Ford football, and I think that’s what they did tonight.”
Next week, Nation Ford has its first bye, and Indian Land travels to South Pointe for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.