ROCK HILL – Nation Ford football coach Michael Allen said his Falcons team will “wear our mistakes” following a 42-21 loss to Region 3-5A rival Rock Hill Thursday night at District 3 Stadium in Rock Hill.
The Falcons fell to 3-5 overall and 1-2 Region 3-5A, gave up three unanswered fourth-quarter touchdown to the Bearcats in the loss, including a momentum-shifting pick-six interception return for a touchdown that effectively ended the visitors’ comeback hopes.
“We’ll wear our mistakes,” Allen said. “We’ve got to go back and see the mistakes we made. The kids need that, whether they blew a coverage or didn’t hit the right gap, or ran the right route, do the right reads, that’s what we can take from it.”
Junior running back Kaleb White, who had 27 rushes for 223 rushing yards, led the Falcons, while junior quarterback Kaden Barnett, went 14-of-33 for 115 passing yards with one passing and one rushing touchdown, worked hard under center.
Nation Ford dodged an early bullet in the scoreless first quarter. Barnett threw an interception to Rock Hill’s Landon Armstrong, which gave the Bearcats a short field to drive with 2:53 left in the first quarter.
Rock Hill running back Daylen Boulware nearly made the Falcons pay just two plays later by dashing into the end zone from 43 yards out, but a holding penalty negated the effort. That Bearcats drive eventually died out.
After starting the game with several punts, Nation Ford’s offense finally found traction by driving from its own 13 to the Rock Hill 14 early in the second quarter, but kicker Austin Sarvis’ 25-yard field goal was blocked at the line.
Rock Hill finally took the lead by driving 87 yards on 10 plays, thanks to big chunk plays by Boulware, including the scoring run from six yards out to give the Bearcats a 7-0 lead.
Barnett found a rhythm with tight end Ben Wakefield to push into Rock Hill territory on the ensuing drive.
Nation Ford even converted a fake punt on fourth and short to extend the drive near midfield.
A pass interference call on Rock Hill gave Barnett the chance to break into the Bearcats’ red zone, and White pushed his way into the end zone from five yards out to tie the ballgame at 7-7 with 1:55 left.
Rock Hill didn’t lie down easily. Quarterback Matthew Wilson found receivers for short gains until receiver EJ Ratley was wide open in the end zone from 25 yards out to earn a 14-7 lead with 53.4 seconds left in the first half.
With their backs against the wall and 50 seconds on the clock, White and company stormed 70 yards down the field, including a 23-yard White run up the middle.
On second and 10, Barnett threw up a prayer to the corner of the end zone, and receiver Lucas Barz came down with the ball to tie the game at 14-all with 2.2 seconds left to play in the first half.
“Our kids are going to fight,” Allen said. “I’ll never question that. But we’re not good enough to make that many mistakes and win a football game … The guys understand what we need to do, especially against a team like Rock Hill and other teams we play. They’ll go back to work.”
The Bearcats took a 21-14 lead when Wilson capped off a 12-play, 64-yard drive to open the second half with an 18-yard quarterback sneak. The Falcons then stalled and were forced to punt on each of their third-quarter drives.
Still, the Falcons had a chance to rebound in the fourth quarter. The visitors drove from their own 20 to the Rock Hill red zone when White found a seam and ran 55 yards downfield to set up Barnett for a 1-yard quarterback keeper.
But the Falcons had few answers for Boulware, who was a constant threat. He and Wilson combined for several first downs on the ensuing Bearcats drives, and Boulware broke two tackles en route to a 9-yard touchdown run with 6:26 left.
Barnett and his offense took the field looking to tie, but Barnett was picked off by Kaiden Watkins on the first play from scrimmage. Watkins took the ball back 30 yards the other way, effectively taking any hope of a comeback out of the picture.
Barnett was picked off again on the next Nation Ford offense, this time trying to find a receiver deep downfield as the Falcons chased the scoreline. Malik Clark scored from 38 yards out to extend the lead to 42-21 with less than three minutes remaining.
If Nation Ford can win out, at home next week against Spring Valley and on the road against crosstown rivals Fort Mill the following week, Allen said he believes his team could earn a home playoff berth.
“It does a lot for our maturity,” Allen said. “They’ll learn from this. They’ll wear what we did wrong and try to fix it. Throughout the season, they’ve been in those situations. We know what to do, but sometimes you need more experience to work through it.”
Up next, Nation Ford hosts Spring Valley next Friday, Oct. 20 at home.