Fort Mill head coach Rob McNeely said his football team “fought to the end” in Friday night’s emotional 30-15 Senior Night loss to region foe Clover at Bob Jones Stadium.
The visiting Blue Eagles jumped out to a 17-0 first-quarter lead, then controlled the tempo throughout the second half to ensure they secured a crucial third win in region play this season.
Running back Demarco Evans scored touchdowns in each half, Jayden Bryant made a 56-yard scoop-and-score, and Clover’s offense hummed with quarterback Jaylen Hoover under center. Clover improved to 5-4 overall and 3-1 in Region 3-5A.
Jason Moran dashed to the end zone on a 99-yard kickoff return just before the end of the first quarter to help put the Yellow Jackets on the board. Landon Kurtz scored a touchdown of his own in the second half on a smart trick play, but Fort Mill, who fell to 0-9 and 0-4 in region, was unable to capitalize on its second-half opportunities to overcome Clover’s lead.
“There’s no such thing as a moral victory,” McNeely said. “But we had a bunch of dudes that were limping around, and they were giving their hearts and souls for each other. They play for each other, not just with each other. That’s all you can ask for.”
The Yellow Jackets bounced back from losing junior tackle Bryce Hartman to a concerning injury that saw the student-athlete stabilized and driven off the field by a local ambulance.
McNeely said after the game he was not aware of Hartman’s condition, but he hopes that the junior is okay.
Clover dominated the first several minutes, scoring on its first possession. The Blue Eagles took over on their own 49 and drove 51 yards in just five plays, including a 27-yard gain by running back Evan Farmer before Demarco Evans finished the drive off with a 2-yard rushing score.
Hartman suffered a scary injury on Fort Mill’s second drive of the game. After Fort Mill ran a rushing play on second and 9 in their own territory, Hartman was hit and remained down on the turf for several minutes. Trainers from both teams immediately came to Hartman’s aid.
After about 25 minutes, an ambulance arrived at Bob Jones Stadium, and the paramedics within loaded Hartman on a stretcher before driving him away about six minutes later.
“I haven’t heard anything,” McNeely said. “Our kids stepped up. They made a commitment to each other that we wanted to finish this game tonight. They fought to the end.”
The two teams were inactive for at least 30 minutes during the pause. When the game resumed, Fort Mill quarterback Isaiah Haynes, who went 18-of-37 for 195 passing yards and two interceptions, fumbled on his own 45, and Jayden Bryant scored on a 55-yard scoop-and-score to put Clover up 14-0 with 7:27 left in the first quarter.
The Yellow Jackets got the ball back and made it as far as the 50, but Haynes was picked off by senior Cooper Zohner. That turnover would lead to a 29-yard Clover field goal by Haven Maddox to make it 17-0 to the Blue Eagles.
Fort Mill finally picked up a stroke of good luck on the ensuing play. Moran, who had 86 receiving yards on five catches, ran a 99-yard kickoff return to put the home team on the board in front of a raucous home crowd. The senior picked up the ball near the end zone, burst through the middle, and cut quickly to the far sideline, where he was just quick enough to elude three Clover defenders on his way to the end zone.
Clover had to wait until the second quarter to score again. After taking over on Fort Mill’s 39, the Blue Eagles pushed deep into the Fort Mill red zone with a 25-yard gain by Farmer. Farmer then ran in the score himself from the 4-yard line. A missed point-after would make it 23-7 to Clover with 10:42 left in the first half.
Fort Mill wouldn’t go quietly. A gadget play gave the Yellow Jackets a shot with 6:54 left in the half.
Haynes found Moran for a 25-yard catch to push within the Clover 25. And two plays later, Haynes pitched the ball off to Dylan Schaefer who aired a looping pass to Kurtz, who had 43 receiving yards on three catches, who was waiting in the back of the Clover end zone. Haynes then found Schaefer for the 2-point conversion to cut the lead to 23-15.
Clover gave up an opportunity to pad its lead on its final drive of the half. The Blue Eagles engineered a 54-yard kickoff return to start a drive on the Fort Mill 20 with two minutes left.
But Hoover fumbled for a loss of major yardage, then suffered a sack to set up fourth and goal from the 34. Maddox would then miss a 39-yard field goal that was partially blocked by Fort Mill’s Gavin Brandwood.
Fort Mill got as far as Clover’s 4-yard line on the first drive of the third quarter, but kicker Jackson Smith’s 21-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Clover’s Sage Penninger.
Clover regained possession and drove 80 yards on eight plays, including back-to-back 30-yard rushes by Evans. Evans then finished off the drive with his second touchdown from 3 yards out.
Fort Mill had a chance to score entering the fourth quarter, but Haynes was unable to find Schaefer on a fourth and 5 on Clover’s 8-yard line, and the Yellow Jackets turned the ball over on downs.
Clover then ate up five minutes of game-time in the fourth quarter, leaving Fort Mill just 5:31 to score twice. The Yellow Jackets gave it their best shot. Haynes found Schaefer and Kurtz for progressive gains to push Fort Mill to Clover’s 25, but Zach Cheatham picked Haynes off in the end zone.
“It was there,” McNeely said. “Isaiah, he’s tough as a $2 steak. And the kids play so hard for him because he’s such a great leader.”
Haynes finished the night with 65 rushing yards on 12 running plays. Clover’s Dion Brown had 50 receiving yards on five catches. Farmer finished the game with 177 rushing yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Evans had 43 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns on 11 carries.
Both teams finish up the 2022 regular season with a final region matchup Friday, Oct. 28. Fort Mill will travel to crosstown rival Nation Ford, while Clover will host Rock Hill.