Quarterback Kayden Hager races across the goal line for the first score of the game for Catawba Ridge against Irmo. Photos by Rob Upton

By David Thackham


IRMO – Senior Quinten Jackson caught two touchdowns and snagged two interceptions, junior Jacobie Henderson snagged a pick-six, and Catawba Ridge’s exciting quarterback combo teamed up for four passing scores to push the Copperheads to a 41-21 win over Irmo High School in the Class 4A quarterfinals Friday night at W.C. Hawkins Stadium.

Catawba Ridge (7-1) moves on to the Upper State championship game against the A.C. Flora Falcons next Friday night in Columbia. The Copperheads, led by head coach Zac Lendyak, are in just their second year of varsity competition, and continue to defy expectations.

“We’ve got the whole city of Fort Mill, the whole Catawba Ridge family behind us,” said freshman quarterback Jadyn Davis, who threw for two touchdowns and 144 yards on 11-of-14 passing in the victory.

Davis recently recovered from a broken collarbone and missed five weeks of game-time. He said it was “probably, the worst time in my life,” to be away from football.

“No one’s expectations are higher than ours,” he said. “We believed in ourselves. The same people praising us now are the people who doubted us in the beginning.”

For the first time since 2015 has a team from Fort Mill been to the Upper State finals in football. Nation Ford lost to Northwestern 30-22 that year in the 4A Upper State finals. Before then there was Fort Mill High, who lost 21-16 to Woodruff in the 2A Upper State finals in 1975. Fort Mill also made it to the 1A Upper State finals in 1965, before falling to Ware Shoals that year 20-7.  

Catawba Ridge’s attack was balanced, multifaceted, and too much for the Irmo Yellow Jackets (6-3) to handle. The Copperheads racked up 219 passing yards between quarterbacks Kayden Hager, who went 8-of-12 for 75 yards with one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown, and Davis. They also put up 213 rushing yards, thanks to Hager’s 133 rushing yards on 10 carries, as well as running back Henry Bowen’s productive day in the trenches going 73 yards on 13 carries.  

Lendyak said his offense has the potential to surprise any team.

“It gives the defense the option, you have to guard two quarterbacks,” he said. “We could put them on the field at the same time. Both Jadyn and Kayden have worked so hard over the past week to get to this point. They did 50/50 reps all week in practice and played fantastic.”

The Copperheads took a commanding lead in the first half, and never looked back.

Hager made an amazing 20-yard run on a busted pass play to give Catawba Ridge its first touchdown of the game on the team’s second offensive drive.

Jayron Chambers busted off a huge 57-yard run on Irmo’s ensuing possession to put the Yellow Jackets in position for their lone first-half score. Dedrick Starkes finished off the drive from two-yards out to tie the game at 7-7.

Kicker Ayden McCarter nailed a 43-yard field goal early in the second quarter as Davis first hit the field.

The Catawba Ridge defense held Irmo on a fourth and two situation on Irmo’s own 44 midway through the second quarter as Starkes was brought down in the backfield for a loss, setting up a short field for Catawba Ridge. Davis was able to somehow spot Jackson, who had five catches for 72 yards, from 25-yards out in the end zone, splitting his laser pass between two Irmo defenders to make it 17-7 Copperheads.

Jackson said being a part of a high-powered offense feels great.

“They don’t know what’s coming,” he said. “We can throw with both, we can run the ball with both quarterbacks, and it’s a lot. I just came in knowing that the team would all do our job and come away with the win.”

The Yellow Jackets drove from their own 27 to Catawba Ridge’s 38 on the next drive, but found themselves in a second and 29 near midfield, following two Irmo holding penalties.

Quarterback Dylan Williams was forced to heave a shot long downfield, but it was snagged by Jackson, now at cornerback, at his own five-yard line.

Catawba Ridge had 2:54 to drive from its own five to the opposing end zone. Hager ripped off a 31-yard run to help give the Copperheads more room to work with, then found Jairus Frank for twin nine-yard passes. Henderson was able to use his lateral quickness to make two separate 10-yard run plays to put Catawba Ridge at Irmo’s 15-yard line with 30 seconds left.

Hager had plenty of time to spot Jackson streaking across the middle for a 15-yard score. From his pick to his score, less than three minutes of game time had elapsed. The team entered halftime up 24-7.

After the break, it only took three Irmo plays until Catawba Ridge was scoring again, this time on defense. Henderson, who had five catches for 70 yards, picked off Williams on the Irmo 30 and ran it back into the Yellow Jackets end zone from to make it 31-7 Catawba Ridge. It was Henderson’s third interception in the past two games.

Williams was picked off by Jackson on the next drive, which led to Davis driving his team from Catawba Ridge’s five-yard line to Irmo’s nine, where he found Ben Hudgins, who had 52 receiving yards, for a score that gave the Copperheads a 38-7 advantage.

Starkes scored a two-yard rushing touchdown for Irmo to end the third quarter, and Jayon Chambers ripped off a 50-yard rushing touchdown near the end of the fourth quarter, but neither were enough to turn the tide.

“It’s everything (to win),” Lendyak said, who will now turn his team’s attention to A.C. Flora, who beat South Pointe 41-14 Friday night. “We’ve been talking to the boys from Day 1 about doing things the right way, the Catawba Ridge way. It’s so great to keep going for another week. I’m really proud of their effort.”

“Both teams will be great,” Jackson added. “It will come down to wanting it more. I feel like our team wants it more, we’ve just got to go prove it.”

Catawba Ridge 41, Irmo 21

Scoring Summary

First quarter

CR – Kayden Hager 20-yard scoring run, 4:05

I – Dedrick Starkes two-yard scoring run, 1:47  

Second quarter

CR – Ayden McCarter 43-yard field goal, 11:45

CR – Quinten Jackson 25-yard scoring reception from Jadyn Davis, 7:32

CR –Jackson 15-yard scoring reception from Hager, 23.7 seconds

Third quarter

CR – Jacobie Henderson 30-yard scoring interception, 10:42

CR – Ben Hudgins nine-yard scoring reception from Davis, 4:28

I – Starkes two-yard scoring run, 1:36

Fourth quarter

CR – McCarter 34-yard field goal, 9:27

I – Jayon Chambers 50-yard scoring run, 2:23

Catawba Ridge’s Quinten Jackson scores during the Copperheads game against Irmo Friday night.