Zamir White, the nation’s top-ranked running back prospect, was his usual spectacular self in Thursday’s 2017 season opener for the Scotland County Fighting Scots.
White, who has made a verbal commitment to play for Georgia, piled up 170 yards rushing and caught two touchdown passes in his senior season debut. But that wasn’t quite enough to knock off one of the state’s premier programs.
Charlotte powerhouse Mallard Creek capitalized on a surprisingly effective passing game to roll up a 21-point halftime advantage over Scotland. But sparked by White’s big plays, the Fighting Scots made a game of it, pulling within a touchdown with 28 seconds left before the Mavericks recovered an onside kick to seal a 28-21 triumph at Pate Stadium.
“We knew coming in they had a heck of a team,’’ Mallard Creek coach Mike Palmieri said. “They’ve got some great players over there. Everybody talks about their running back, and he’s just a great football player. We knew it would be a good test for us tonight, and it was.’’
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It was a major opening test for two of the state’s premier 4A programs, which also happen to feature several of the state’s top senior college prospects.
Mallard Creek has won three state titles and compiled a 114-23 record in 10 previous seasons under head coach Palmieri. But the Mavericks are coming off a 9-3 campaign that was the program’s worst since a 1-10 record during his first season in 2007.
Scotland had produced a 65-7 record during the first five years of Richard Bailey’s tenure as head coach, have played for the state title once and reached the semifinals twice. Like the Mavericks, the Fighting Scots ended last season on a sour note with a state semifinal loss against Cape Fear.
“I told our kids the last two years our only loss has been the one to end our season,’’ Bailey said. “So this time we get to learn from this. Hopefully, we’ll come back hungry and understand what we need to do to get better. But nothing about tonight is preventing us from getting where we want to be. Losing to a team that’s going to have a good chance to win the big 4A is definitely not an indictment on us in terms of what we can do in the small 4A.’’
Mallard Creek set the tone for a stellar first half in the opening minutes. The Mavericks intercepted a Warren Bell pass on third down of the game-opening possession. First-year held quarterback starter Jadyn Washington found transfer wide receiver Lovelle Williams with a 30-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage to give Mallard Creek a 7-0 lead.
Washington would go on to connect with Williams on a 20-yard scoring pass near the end of the first half, which, sandwiched around Cameron Lowry’s 3-yard touchdown run, created the 21-point halftime margin.
That appeared to be all Mallard Creek would need until White took a short pass from Warren Bell and turned it into a tackle-breaking 66-yard touchdown with 3:57 left in the third quarter. The play was the first of three scores by White in the second half, the last on a 35-yard scoring pass with 28.5 seconds to go to pull the Scots within seven points.
Only a one-yard run by Lowry with 2:27 left provided the winning margin for the Mavericks.
“I’m proud of us,’’ Bailey said. “We got down 21-0 and could have laid down. But we kept fighting and that’s all I can ask.’’
Sammy Batten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mallard Creek 7 14 0 7-28
Scotland 0 0 7 14-21
MC-Lovelle Williams 30 pass from Jadyn Washington (Tim McCutchen kick)
MC-Cameron Lowry 3 run (McCutchen kick)
MC-Williams 20 pass from Washington (McCutchen kick)
SC-Zamir White 66 pass from Warren Bell (Chip Wells kick)
SC-White 89 run (Wells kick)
MC-Lowry 1 run (McCutchen kick)
SC-White 35 pass from Bell (Wells kick)
Passing: MC – Washington 7-11-0, 168. SC – Bell 7-17-1, 160.
Rushing: MC – Nasjzae Bryant 13-139. SC – Zamir White 10-170.
Receiving: MC – Williams 5-144. SC – White 2-101.
Records: Mallard Creek 1-0, Scotland 0-1.