The Nation Ford Falcons rattled off four straight touchdown-scoring drives in the second half to overcome and topple their crosstown rivals, the Fort Mill Yellow Jackets, 38-14, in the 13th edition of the Milltown Showdown Friday night at Bob Jones Stadium.
Senior Petey Tuipulotu, junior Gabe Huitt, senior Nathan Mahaffey and sophomore Montrel Goodson all found the end zone for Nation Ford in the second half following the Falcons’ 10-7 lead at the break.
The victory pushes Nation Ford to 4-3 on the season and 1-1 in Region 3-5A. Fort Mill drops to 1-7, 0-2 in Region 3.
Mahaffey (21 carries for 147 yards, 1 TD) said he had been waiting all night to finally break through the secondary and hit open space.
“I knew it was coming,” he said. “I’m more of a second-half player, I usually turn up in the second half. I saw the hole and thought, ‘This is it.’ It’s indescribable (to score against a rival). It gets your heart going, it gets you pumped up.”
The Falcons have now won the past five encounters against the Yellow Jackets, the most hotly-anticipated rivalry games on the teams’ schedule. Fort Mill still leads the all-time series record 7-6 in 13 overall contests.
Fort Mill kicker Ben Rich had a chance to tie the game at 10-10 midway through the third quarter, but his attempt from 44 yards out clanged against the crossbar and back out.
Nation Ford quickly took advantage of the miscue on the next possession. Huitt (16-for-24, 226 passing yards) found Tuipulotu for a 47-yard touchdown that sent the wide receiver streaking down the left sideline after several short-yardage running plays caught the Fort Mill secondary napping.
Huitt then converted a QB-sneak into the endzone on Nation Ford’s next drive late in the third quarter to push the lead to 24-7. Mahaffey burst through two tackles and raced into the end zone from 48 yards out on the next Nation Ford possession.
And Montrel Goodson (6-for-109 yards) did one better on the drive after that, taking a handoff on the left sideline and easily winning the subsequent 77-yard foot race against Fort Mill’s secondary.
The Falcons outpaced the Yellow Jackets in total yardage 541-226 — and nearly tripled their rivals in rushing yards 310 to 110.
“We finally started executing in the second half,” said Nation Ford coach Michael Allen, who stressed that he wanted to clean up unnecessary penalties (11 for 101 yards). “We’re happy to win the game, but we’re not naïve enough to know that we have a lot of work to do.”
The Yellow Jackets got the game off to a hot start, executing a 12-play 84-yard rumble that lasted more than six minutes.
Quarterback Connor Rasmussen was 4-for-4 for 52 yards on his opening passes, including a gorgeous 26-yard back shoulder fade to wide receiver Keyan Mims (3-for-57 yards) who caught the ball in stride in the end zone.
But that was the Yellow Jackets’ only offensive outburst until Liam Walsh’s 3-yard score late in the fourth quarter. Rasmussen finished the game with a 9-for-20 for 116 yards stat line.
Nation Ford’s Jerrick Foster tip-toed his way down the left sideline to secure the Falcons’ first touchdown of the night with a 56-yard rushing score in the opening quarter.
Senior kicker Quinn Castner knocked home a 34-yard field goal and all five of his extra points on the night.
Key turning point: A penalty
With Nation Ford up 17-7, the Falcons stalled on a drive in the third quarter. The Falcons punted, but a Fort Mill defender collided with the Nation Ford punter and the referees threw a flag that gave the Falcons another four downs to play.
Huitt then found wide receiver Jarvis Johnson for a huge 54-yard catch down the right sideline that put the visitors at the Fort Mill 4 yard line. Two plays later, Huitt was celebrating an easy QB keeper touchdown and Fort Mill was left to rue its mistake.
“We can’t give a good team like that four more downs,” said Fort Mill coach Rob McNeely. “They capitalized on it. We were only down three at halftime, but we missed some assignments, and put ourselves in a bad spot defensively.”
Key performers: Tuipulotu and Mahaffey
Tuipulotu (5-for-83 yards) picked up key grabs exactly when his team needed it. Huitt managed the game very well, dropping long bombs on his receivers and giving them a lot of space to work with. But Mahaffey was the bellcow all night, as he has been all season for the Falcons.
“Hopefully we can keep going up,” said Mahaffey. “The hope is that we beat Rock Hill, Northwestern, Chapin, and the rest and keep this going. It’s my last year, so we got to.”
Nation Ford hosts Northwestern High next week in region play.
Fort Mill will take a bye week before traveling to Rock Hill to face Northwestern on Oct. 25 at District Three Stadium.