Rock Hill High football players splashed and laughed and lounged in a big blue cold tub after Wednesday night’s practice, a reminder that high school football is still played by teenagers, despite the seriousness piled on it at times.
The Bearcats suffered a disappointing loss Saturday afternoon, falling 27-20 to Blythewood in another of the nearly games that have been so common the last few years. Rock Hill has lost nine games by 10 points or less during the 23 that coach Bubba Pittman has been in charge.
Pittman was smiling as he watched his guys enjoy each other’s company in the frigid water Wednesday evening. It hasn’t been all fun and games for Rock Hill the last few years, but one loss hasn’t caused a chemistry explosion.
We think we’re ready. It showed where we were at, showed us where we need to be. Little tiny things we’ve been working on in practice.
Rock Hill receiver Kenny Agurs, on the Bearcats’ loss to Blythewood. Agurs had eight catches for 133 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals.
“A lot of first game jitters, mistakes on our part,” said Pittman. “We didn’t play a clean game. We got down there and shot ourselves in the foot several times and it ended up costing us.”
The Bearcats made three empty treks into the Blythewood red zone, turned the ball over three times and missed two field goals.
“But we’re right there with 2 minutes to go with a chance to win it,” said Pittman. “They believe in what we’re doing and they’re sticking together and we’re expecting good results.”
I think they’re hungry for a win and just a break here or there and they could have won last week.
York coach Bobby Carroll on his team’s opponent Friday night, Rock Hill
Rock Hill could use a win Friday at home against York. Ditto for the Cougars, who had a weird preseason. Two potentially key players transferred the weekend before the season officially started, and York was fortunate to have a first week bye. The Cougars used last Friday’s home scrimmage against Laurens to try and rejig the offense ahead of the season opener.
There is still talent aplenty in the York ranks, but the players who will emerge as standouts for Bobby Carroll’s bunch this fall are largely unknown outside of their town. They know each other, though, most of them having played football together since elementary school.
“They’re just resilient, man,” said Carroll. “They haven’t ever sputtered. We haven’t mentioned any of the adversity at all; we’re on to the next one.”
One player who Rock Hill coaches and players know all about - and most in the area will by the end of the year - is York senior Jae’vion Matthews.
Jae’vion Matthews’ 2015 highlights:
Matthews returned four punts for touchdowns last season, part of a first team All-Area campaign that included 84 tackles, three interceptions and three more defensive touchdowns. Off the field, Matthews is goofy and grins a lot, but like many good football players he has a different on-field personality. A fanged mouthpiece, plenty of trash talk and knockout hits sum up No. 1 when he’s in uniform.
For Rock Hill to get a big home win Friday night it needs to do the little things right. That list will probably include punting the ball far away from Matthews, especially since it’s unclear how much success York’s offense will have of its own creation. Carroll said that he and assistant coach David Prince have run the same set of punt returns for the last 25 years.
“They’re scoring points off of that and it’s making up for some of their holes they’re trying to fill on the offensive side,” said Pittman.
The situation will dictate what we do. But we know they are very, very good and dynamic in their special teams.
Rock Hill coach Bubba Pittman, on whether his team will punt the ball to York’s return men
In the first half of last week’s Bank of York scrimmage against Laurens, Matthews had a 46-yard punt return that set up a touchdown, before taking another punt 60 yards for a score. Tajh Reid-Stanley added another 60-yard punt return for a touchdown to put the Cougars in front 20-7 at the half. That was the sum of York’s scoring; Carroll said he put in the second and third team in the second half and Laurens came back to win.
In the absence of certain players or results, both sides have talked up team chemistry. It doesn’t appear to be a smokescreen from either camp, especially when chilly water splashed out of a post-practice cold tub hits your shins.
“We talked all offseason about making sure we have each other’s back,” Pittman said. “I thought our kids did a really good job of that on Saturday. We’ve just got to finish.”
Friday’s area games
York at Rock Hill
Nation Ford at South Pointe
Northwestern at Dorman
Fort Mill at West Florence
Blacksburg at Lewisville
Clover at Forestview (N.C.)
Franklin Christian at Lewisville
Whitmire at Great Falls
Buford at Indian Land
*Games start at 7:30 p.m.