Fort Mill’s Joshua Sturgeon looks for running room in the Jackets game against Piedmont. Photos by Rob Upton

A potential game winning scoring drive for the Fort Mill Yellow Jackets football team came up short in the final minute as they fell 34-28 to the Piedmont Panthers.

Now 0-3 on the season, Fort Mill had its home opener and was playing for the first time in two weeks as they were coming off a COVID protocol. The Jackets were originally scheduled to play Lancaster, but the Bruins are in their second round of COVID cancellations, so the Panthers from Monroe, N.C. were scheduled to replace Lancaster

Fort Mill was led by quarterback Kyle Neibch, who went 17-for-29 for 148 yards. Andrew Thompson was his main target in the game as he caught five passes for 54 yards. Michael Threatt rushed the ball 12 times for 39 yards as the Jackets’ leading rusher. 

Piedmont did the majority of their damage on the ground rushing for 353 yards on 46 carries. Fort Mill gave up 460 total yards. 

“Offensively we put points on the board,” said Fort Mill head coach Rob McNeely. “We couldn’t get off the field on some of those long drives. Defensively they ran the ball well. We have to stop the run better. We didn’t shut down the running lanes and didn’t play assignment football at time. You have to be consistent. You can’t do it every now and then.  I am proud of their effort.” 

The Jackets never lost their fight as Neibch hit JJ Ogwal on an eight-yard touchdown pass with about 10 minutes left in the game to pull within six at 34-28. That drive was set up on a blocked punt from Brady Gault to get the ball down to the one-yard line for the Jackets.  However, defensively, Piedmont pinpointed Fort Mill’s weakness at the line and ate up the clock to control the game throughout the duration. 

Fort Mill had a couple of chances in the fourth quarter but came up short even in the final minute as the Jackets turned the ball over on downs within striking distance of the end zone with 38 seconds left in the game. 

Piedmont came out of the half and used a couple of big runs to move the ball deep into the Jackets’ territory, before extending their lead on a 17-yard touchdown run giving them a 26-14 lead on just a four-play drive. 

Fort Mill was able to make things happen on their first drive of the second half as Neibch was able to make several connections to Andrew Thompson to give them a couple of first downs. Michael Threatt was able to get a couple of runs pushing the Jackets down the field, before Neibch would run in from one-yard out. 

The Panthers’ rushing game was just too strong as they pushed the Fort Mill defensive line down the field and found holes to hit picking up big chunks of yards. Piedmont extended their lead and still was able to have an answer for every Fort Mill scoring drive. 

Piedmont came out on their first drive of the game and used the run to pound their way into Jackets territory. The Jackets defense came up big on Piedmont’s first drive as Boston Brinkley had a sack for an 11-yard loss to force the Panthers to punt.

Fort Mill put together their first scoring drive of the season as Neibch went to several options and got the drive off on a big catch from Ogwal. Neibch went to both Joshua Sturgeon and Threatt on the drive to move the ball into the red zone. Neibch then found Thompson for a 15-yard touchdown to give Fort Mill their first points of the season and a 7-0 lead with 51 seconds left in the opening quarter. 

Piedmont came right back and again kept the ball on the ground and forced the Fort Mill defense on their heels working their way into the red zone. The Panthers put together a 12-play drive covering 96-yards to get on the board with a three-yard touchdown. 

Once Piedmont realized they could keep the ball on the ground and eat the clock, they continued to run the ball right at Fort Mill and put together another long drive to take a 14-7 lead on a 10 play, 76-yard drive. Piedmont used the quarterback to do much of their rushing on the drives as Fort Mill gave up 188 yards on the ground in the first half. 

The Panthers got the ball back with about three minutes left in the half and went to the air this time scoring in four plays going 76 yards in just 39 seconds to go up 20-7. 

Fort Mill did have a bright spot right before the end of the first half as Gault recovered a fumble and ran 49-yards to get the Jackets back in the game making it 20-14 as time expired in the opening half. 

Mac Banks:, @fortprep

The Jackets’ JJ Ogwal catches a pass during Fort Mill’s game against Piedmont Friday night at Bob Jones Stadium.