When quarterback Jordan Thurmond’s number was called with three minutes left in the game — with Rock Hill embarking on a drive less than 50 yards away from its end zone, the score knotted at 14 — he didn’t know what to think.
He was happy, for one — ready to seize an opportunity to take the lead late in the game against his team’s cross-town rival. But he was also cold, having not played a snap all game prior to the team’s final drive.
In his first play of the drive, Thurmond threw an errant incomplete pass into the flat. Starting quarterback Jackson Roberson filed into the game immediately afterward.
But then, with Rock Hill sitting at a third and one, Thurmond was back in the huddle: On this play, he took the snap, faked a hand-off, ran right — and then, with one man to beat, spun into the end zone.
Rock Hill took a 21-14 lead with just under two minutes left — and didn’t relinquish it.
“Complicated emotions,” Thurmond, out of breath from celebrating, told The Herald after his team’s 21-14 win at District Three Stadium on Friday night. “Whenever it worked out, I was just happy.”
With the win, Rock Hill cemented its spot at second in the region, earned an automatic playoff berth and concluded the team’s Senior Night on a positive note.
“Our senior class, I’ll tell you what,” Rock Hill head coach Bubba Pittman said after the game, shaking his head. “Those guys have done so much for us… Those guys have put in so much effort, so much hard work into turning our football program around.”
The night almost didn’t shake out like this.
As time expired in the first quarter, Rock Hill would break the game’s proverbial ice with a two-yard touchdown rush by running back Isiah Brown. 7-0, Bearcats.
But Northwestern wasn’t quick to lay down.
Rock Hill found itself rolling on its next drive, 12 yards from making it a two-score game, but Northwestern caused a Cam Walker fumble on a jet sweep rush and recovered the turnover.
A few drives later, Northwestern quarterback Sydney Mullinax found junior receiver Kyle Aldridge for a 64-yard touchdown toss to tie the game. 7-7.
By halftime, the contest felt as if it would be defined by what could have been: It saw three turnovers — two of which were within the team’s respective red zones — and more poor passes and missed opportunities.
Northwestern head coach Page Wofford said his team couldn’t overcome its own mistakes.
“For probably the tenth game, it’s our own mistakes that hold us back,” Wofford said.
The third quarter was largely uneventful — headlined by a 48-yard rush by Rock Hill’s Ashton Peterson, who took it all the way to 12-yard line. The opportunity went unfulfilled, though: The Bearcats followed the big rush up with a few plays for loss, including an intentional grounding penalty that set up a longer-than-expected 46-yard field goal that was sent wide left.
The game took on a new life in the fourth quarter, though.
With 9:33 left in the game, after a pair of 15-plus yard catches by Robbie Ouzts, Rock Hill quarterback Roberson found Walker for a 12-yard touchdown. 14-7, Rock Hill.
The ensuing possession, 15 seconds later, Northwestern’s Riley Duran found Ger-Cari Caldwell on an inside drag route, and Caldwell took it 80 yards for an equalizing touchdown. Tied again. 14-14.
Afterward, Rock Hill quarterback Thurmond’s aforementioned 15-yard rush gave the Bearcats a lead they wouldn’t give back. And then, in his typical big-play fashion, senior Shrine Bowl selection Tylik Edwards sealed the game with an interception with less than a minute left — his second of the contest.
Rock Hill was led on the ground by running back Peterson, who notched 12 carries for 79 yards, and Brown, who had three carries for 12 yards and a touchdown.
Bearcat starting quarterback, Roberson, completed 17 of 24 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown: “Jackson played great tonight,” Pittman said after the game.
Northwestern starting quarterback Sydney Mullinax was 9-for-22 for 139 yards, a touchdown and an interception. His backup on Friday night, Riley Duran, threw 8-for-19 for 121 yards, a touchdown and two picks.
Trojan receiver Ger-Cari Caldwell made seven catches for 149 yards and a touchdown, including an 80-yard score. Kyle Aldridge also had himself a game, making five catches for 75 yards, which included a 64-yard touchdown.
Minutes after the final whistle blew — with the Rock Hill student fans reaching over the fence to engage with the players, nearly spilling onto the field — Roberson approached Thurmond with a smile.
Roberson, the player who led the team almost all game, gave the player who stole the show at the last moment a hug, and they shared a brief moment together.
They then continued celebrating.
“Beating your cross-town rival,” Thurmond said with a smile, “it’s just the sweetest victory you can get.”