A week after allowing two special teams touchdowns in a narrow win over York, South Pointe’s errant kick coverage tripped up the Stallions in Friday night’s 35-30 Class AAAA-Division II state semifinal loss to Greenwood at District Three South Stadium.
A South Pointe (12-2) touchdown cut the Eagles’ lead to 21-14 in the second quarter before a gut punch wobbled the defending Class AAA state champs. Octavius Morgan gathered in an angled, chipped kickoff at the Greenwood (14-0) 35-yard line and scooted down the sideline past an impenetrable escort of blockers for a 65-yard Eagles’ touchdown, one that put a big brother stiff-arm into the foreheads of the home team. Morgan had earlier returned one of the chipped kickoffs, which the Stallions have utilized all season, into South Pointe territory, forecasting the threat he posed.
“I don’t know that I thought we’d be able to exploit” the chip shot kicks, said Greenwood coach Gene Cathcart, who has his team in the state finals for the third straight year. “I thought if we fielded it, we’d be able to get good field position.”
That’s something that the Eagles didn’t allow South Pointe, with Greenwood kicker Matt McManis blasting five kickoffs through the end zone for touchbacks. McManis’ hefty leg, and the Stallions’ short kickoffs, helped the Eagles enjoy a field position advantage: Greenwood’s average start was at its 38.5, while South Pointe’s was at its 24.
Still, Strait Herron’s offense overcame, racking up over 500 yards of total offense, unquestionably one of its best performances of the year. That production made the un-sexy routine plays, the blown kick coverages, even harder to stomach.
“We can’t cover a kick,” Herron said flatly after the game.
Instead of heading into the locker room at most trailing by a touchdown, Morgan’s return had the Stallions down by 14, and even that deficit was only preserved after a bad snap led to a low McManis field goal try blocked by Stallion linebacker Devin Starnes.
But just seven days removed from York senior Lee Wright torching South Pointe for two kick return touchdowns, Morgan cruising down the sideline untouched for a momentum-spinning score must have seemed like a recurrent nightmare for Stallions fans.
“I don’t know if they had a miscommunication there on the sideline because they lost contain on that one,” said Cathcart.
Herron’s team did make some key special teams plays in the second half. Tay Blake hit P.J. Heath with a 34-yard touchdown pass, leading to an onside kick. South Pointe kicker Logan Ard drilled the ball into the District Three South turf and after it was finger-tipped by a number of players, De Sloan emerged from the bottom of a massive scrum with the football. Down just 28-21, it seemed like South Pointe, 18-3 all-time in the postseason heading into Friday night’s game, was about to conduct a cold-blooded takeover.
But Cathcart’s undefeated team stemmed the tide, stopping the Stallions in the Greenwood red zone and holding them to a 22-yard Ard field goal to make it 28-24 in the third quarter. South Pointe went after another onside kick, but Greenwood was hip to the trick, recovering near midfield.
Greenwood made it 35-24 in the fourth quarter, but Devin Pearson’s 1-yard touchdown run cut the lead to five. South Pointe’s failed two-point try precipitated another onside kick. It looked like a cheeky attempt at a momentum-grab, but Herron said afterward that his team was onside-kicking simply because it couldn’t cover normal kick returns properly. South Pointe’s consecutive onside kicks weren’t so much an innovative comeback attempt as they were a desperate effort to keep the Eagles out of the end zone.
Only six minutes remained after Pearson’s score, so the Stallions tried one last unusual kickoff. With an onside kick clearly aimed toward the South Pointe sideline, Ard surprised everyone by poking the ball the opposite direction toward Greenwood’s side. He raced after the ball and nearly pounced on it after a Greenwood player bobbled the catch, but the ensuing wave of heavier football players enabled the Eagles to somehow emerge from the pile pigskin aloft, and crucially a possession with a chance to leech the clock to zeros.
Ard’s older brother Landon, a kicker at the University of South Carolina, pulled off the same type of play several years back against Independence, and when the South Pointe coaching staff saw the right side of Greenwood’s kick return open, they told him to go for it. Ultimately, Ard and the Stallions were left to curse one last special teams fail.