Before his Nation Ford team hit the field for the second half of the Falcons’ game against Harding University High on Friday, head coach Michael Allen asked for a commitment to execute better than they did in the first half.
Allen got his commitment, and Nation Ford sailed to a huge 55-15 non-region win over Harding in front of a raucous home crowd in Fort Mill.
The Falcons led the visiting Rams 14-9 at halftime, but piled on six more touchdowns in the second half to secure a statement win. Nation Ford, who improved to 2-3 overall, played especially well right after the break. The home team scored a touchdown on each one of its third-quarter possessions.
Allen said it’s about time.
“We’ve played pretty crappy third quarters throughout the course of the season so far,” he said. “We committed to each other in the locker room that we were going to execute better in the second half, and it came to fruition in the third quarter.”
In all, seven different Falcons combined to score Nation Ford’s eight touchdowns, with Will Alvarado accounting for two rushing scores.
Nation Ford had a rough start to the contest. The Falcons fumbled on their first play from scrimmage, allowing Harding to take over on the Falcons’ 29. It took the Rams just six plays before running back Jo-Jo Crudup hit the end zone from two yards out to give Harding a 6-0 lead.
After trading punts, the home team did take advantage of strong field position when a Harding punt set the Falcons up on the Harding 40 with 4:47 left in the first quarter.
A personal foul penalty pushed the Falcons as far as the Harding 13, and quarterback Carson Black found Kenan Bowman on the left side of the end zone for a 10-yard score soon after. Reed Richardson made his point-after kick to give Nation Ford a 7-6 lead.
Black, who went 4-of-7 for 11 yards in the first half, struggled early to connect with his receivers. He overthrew his assignment on a third and long on Nation Ford’s next offensive possession, which was easily picked off by Harding’s Keyshawn Johnson.
The Rams took over in their own territory and steadily mounted a mammoth 16-play drive that stretched about seven minutes before setting up kicker Omar Ceesay to nail a 22-yard field goal.
By the time the Falcons took over, Allen’s offense was ready to run. Running backs Alvarado and Jerimiah Hailstock combined on long rushes to move Nation Ford from its own 14-yard line all the way to the Harding red zone.
Alvarado broke free for an 11-yard touchdown to put the home team up 14-9 with less than two minutes before the halftime break.
Allen asked for a better commitment at the break, he said, and wanted to get his players back to playing what he calls “Nation Ford football”: Taking care of the ball and taking advantage of opportunities.
The Falcons came out motivated to start the second half. Black found Brooks Johnson on three crucial throws to set up Jerrick Foster to score from the one, extending the Falcons lead to 20-9.
Nation Ford’s defense forced a fumble off of Harding quarterback Diego Parks on the next drive. Again, Black paired up with Johnson for 38 combined yards before handing the rock off to Alvarado to earn his second score of the day from a yard out.
After a Harding three-and-out, Black finally found his rhythm. He connected with Quadier Hand for a 56-yard reception to set up a touchdown pass to Callan Sobas from just 18 yards away. The entire drive was only three plays to travel 80 yards.
And the perfect quarter didn’t end there. After Jo-Jo Crudup secured his second touchdown of the day for the Rams, Black found Hand for a 24-yard catch, this time in the Harding end zone, to push the lead to 41-15.
Nation Ford’s defense hassled Parks all night. In the middle of the fourth quarter, the Falcons quickly reacted to a high snap that sailed over Parks’ head. Vance Porter was the first to snag the loose ball, and he ran it back about 70 yards to give Nation Ford a defensive score. Altogether, the team sacked Parks five times and forced multiple fumbles.
Hailstock got in on the action with a 47-yard dash down the near sideline to finish the scoring and provide Nation Ford a 40-point lead that won’t soon be forgotten by the team’s seniors who celebrated Senior Night.
“Our motto was ‘Fix it,’” Allen said. “This gives us something to grow on. (Black) had a better day today. He was committed to executing better, always looking for matchups. He made some good reads and throws, and our receivers made some good catches. That’s what it’s about, first downs and touchdowns.”
Nation Ford will next kick off its Region 3-5A slate on the road against local rival Fort Mill on Oct. 1. Nation Ford has won the past six matchups dating back to October 2015. Allen said he isn’t going to change his team’s approach heading into the rivalry game.
“I just want to get better, day in and day out,” he said. “Fort Mill is getting better; they’ve got a win under their belt. We treat everybody the same, whether they’re a Pop Warner team or the Dallas Cowboys. If they’re a bad team, you should win big and if they’re a good team, you should do everything right and limit mistakes, so that’s our approach.”