The Nation Ford Falcons made it nine wins in a row over rival Fort Mill on the gridiron with a 27-13 win at Bob Jones Stadium Friday.
The win also gave Nation Ford the city championship as they had already beat Catawba Ridge earlier in the season.
With both teams already locked into the playoffs, the game was more for seeding purposes and pride than anything else. With the win, Nation Ford is locked into third place in the region. A third seed out of the region guaranteed a first-round home game, while the fourth and fifth seeds hit the road to open the playoffs.
Nation Ford will now host the Hillcrest Rams, who lost to JL Mann and finished third in Region I, next Friday, Nov. 3 in the opening round of the 5A playoffs, while Fort Mill hits the road to TL Hanna.
“Our kids fought hard,” said Falcons head coach Michael Allen. “I thought we were sloppy at times. We got to clean that up. We are always happy to get a win.”
Nation Ford opened the game taking the kickoff and immediately started feeding running back Kaleb White. The Falcons got hit with a 15-yard penalty, but made it up on a 32-yard connection between Kaden Barnett and Lucas Barz to cross midfield. Barnett went to the air two more times on passes, but missed both opportunities. The Falcons tried going for it on fourth down, but Barnett was sacked turning it over at the 20-yard line on downs.
Fort Mill started fast on offense moving the ball well as Quinn Kelly went to several different options. Tysen Helms rattled off a big 25-yard run to push them into the red zone. Kelly then hit Tanner Mays for a 15-yard touchdown pass to go up on Nation Ford early in the first quarter.
“We have got to learn to move on and get ready for the next play,” said Fort Mill head coach Rob McNeely. “We have got to stop beating Fort Mill. That first drive shows what we can be about.”
Nation Ford came back with a hurry up offense and was able to move the ball quickly getting to the red zone in about 10 plays.
The Falcons’ drive moved into the second quarter with Nation Ford starting things off at the 17-yard line. Barnett hit Jaydon Scott on the first play to tie the game just seven seconds into the second quarter making it 7-7.
The drives by both teams were long ones that ate up a lot of the clock. The second quarter was a little bit shorter in the drives for the Jackets. Nation Ford forced Fort Mill to punt giving the Falcons the ball at midfield. Fort Mill got a costly penalty which put Nation Ford at the 18-yard line where Barnett hit Caden Giles for an 18-yard touchdown to give the Falcons the lead with 9:04 left in the half.
After the initial drive for Fort Mill, the Nation Ford defense made the adjustments they needed and was able to pursue Kelly more. Kelly was able to make things happen when he got out of the box to scramble.
Fort Mill tried punting after a stalled drive, but Nation Ford’s Antonio Crosby blocked a punt giving the Falcons the ball at the 19-yard line. Three plays later Barnett found Jeffery Papin on a 10-yard touchdown to extend their lead to 20-7.
On the next Nation Ford drive, Barnett hit three consecutive passes of 27-yards through the air and was at the 4-yard line, but had to settle for a 30-yard field goal attempt, after some negative yard plays, backed them up.
Fort Mill got the opening kick to start the second half and started putting together a good drive getting to midfield, but ended up turning the ball over on downs at the Falcons’ 47. The Jackets defense held strong and stopped a fake punt getting the ball back at the 34-yard line.
Neither team seemed to get anything moving in the third quarter as they both struggled to maintain a drive. Barnett struggled to hit receivers he was finding in the first half for Nation Ford. Fort Mill was stifled by the Falcons’ defense and couldn’t find any rhythm.
In the fourth quarter, Fort Mill started things off driving the ball, but was forced to punt at midfield.
Nation Ford found what was missing in the third quarter. Barnett started finding receivers and finished the drive hitting Giles for the second touchdown connection of the game on a 7-yard score with about 6:16 left in the game.
Barnett was 25-for-35 passing for 329 yards and four touchdowns. His main target was Josh Ameo, who caught seven passes for 103 yards.
Fort Mill didn’t hang their heads, but came back and put tougher a great drive ending in a 28-yard touchdown pass from Kelly to Brandon Moore to put the game within two scores with about 3:37 left.
Kelly was 15-for-26 for 138 yards with two touchdowns. Mays caught five passes for 55 yards for the Jackets.
Nation Ford finished the regular season at 5-5 overall and 3-2 in Region 3-5A, while Fort Mill was 2-8 overall and 1-4 in the region.
Mac Banks: firstname.lastname@example.org, @fortprep