It only took one.
One play. One pass. One catch.
In a game that would have significant Region 3-5A title implications — that’s all it took on Friday night.
It was Clover’s first play from scrimmage after forcing a Rock Hill punt. Less than four minutes had run off the clock. The Blue Eagles were 68 yards away from the canvas.
Senior quarterback Gabe Carroll set up in the shotgun with an empty backfield. His favorite target all season, senior wide receiver Jaylin Lane, set up on the far side of the field.
“Well, we didn’t know exactly how they were going to line up, and we saw they didn’t have a safety over the top, so Gabe and I knew,” Lane said after his team’s 35-10 win over Rock Hill.
“It’s just eye contact with me and him. We just know.”
Carroll received the snap, bounced in the pocket, watched Lane streak up the sideline and let it rip.
Lane flew under the ball, caught it and — just like his team — he didn’t look back.
With the win, Clover earned the program’s first region championship since 2006.
“It’s great for the kids, great for the community…” head coach Brian Lane said. “Our guys are excited, but I always tell them, we don’t smile. You don’t smile while you’re eating. That’s what I tell them: ‘You don’t smile while you’re eating.’ We still got a ways to go.”
The first play would open floodgates that the Bearcats couldn’t reseal: On the team’s third possession, Clover’s Zion Robbins turned his defender around with a double move and Carroll found him for a 35-yard touchdown. 14-0, Clover.
And then, after trading punts, Rock Hill quarterback Jackson Roberson was intercepted by Clover’s Jay Falls. The next play, Carroll connected with Lane for a 49-yard touchdown pass on a deep post. 21-0.
Come halftime, Carroll would have accumulated 250 yards and three touchdowns.
In the second half, the Blue Eagles again didn’t pull any punches early: On the opening kickoff of the second half, Clover’s Zacch Davis took it to the house. 28-0, Clover.
The second half would largely prove to be uneventful after that kickoff return. The Bearcats would knock in a field goal in the third quarter, and Cam Walker would catch a 38-yard touchdown late in the fourth — but it wouldn’t be enough to overcome the early damage inflicted by the Blue Eagles.
Rock Hill head coach Bubba Pittman said that he was proud how his team fought hard all game.
“I told them (after the game) that unfortunately we weren’t going to be region champs, and that’s OK,” Pittman said. “We got to finish our season strong and figure out a way to set up the third part of our season, which is the playoff run. So that’s the goal now, to win out. And we’re going to have to play well to do that.”
Clover’s Carroll was 16-for-23 passing for 309 yards and three touchdowns. Lane caught six of those passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns.
David Hall added eight carries for 74 yards and a touchdown — including a 36-yard scamper for Clover’s final score of the night.
Rock Hill’s Roberson was 12-for-24 with 165 yards, a touchdown and an interception. His touchdown toss was to Cam Walker, who notched seven catches for 132 yards and a touchdown on Friday night.
With the scoreboard already turned off, the home-side bleachers cleared out, Coach Lane gathered his team for a postgame chat.
He listed his team’s goals from the beginning of the season: winning the rivalry game in Week 0; earning a playoff berth; winning region; practicing on Thanksgiving; and then, of course, getting crowned as state champions.
His son, when asked about his team coming close to achieving all of the enumerated goals, smiled: “This is the first time that my Dad and I have been here since we have gotten this far with our goals, because they’ve been the same each year,” Jaylin Lane said.
“It feels great, and we’re ready to keep on pushing.”