Rock Hill won its first home opener since 2010, thumping Conway 35-13 Friday night at District 3 Stadium. The Bearcat defense was stifling, intercepting three Tiger passes in the first half and holding the Tigers scoreless for 45 of the game’s 48 minutes.
“I thought we played well defensively, I though coach (Mike) Biddix had a great game plan defensively,” Rock Hill coach Joe Montgomery said. “They got after it.”
In what was dubbed by some as the “Sophomore Bowl” because of all the young players seeing extensive playing time on both sides, Rock Hill showed the most maturity on the night.
“Obviously, we got outplayed tonight,” said Conway (1-2) coach Chuck Jordan. “We made mistakes and they didn’t, and they capitalized. That was the difference really.”
After a slow 11 minutes, the Bearcats got rolling offensively. Sophomore Brandon Banks spelled starting quarterback Dylan Jones late in the first quarter and piloted the Rock Hill (1-1) offense effectively, completing 26 of 36 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns, and running for 37 yards and another score. Last week it was Jones’ subbing in for Banks, who started in the season-opening loss to Dorman, and playing well.
“I don’t care what their name is and who does it, just as long as they get the job done,” Montgomery said. “When you have inexperienced quarterbacks, the pressure of starting is pretty big. They’ve got to be able to handle that. It’s easier sometimes to come off that bench when there’s no expectations. We’ve got to have one of those kids step up.”
In front of what Montgomery said was the largest Rock Hill home crowd in two or three years, Rock Hill got off to a flying start when junior linebacker D’Nylijah Williams stepped in front of an Ethan Smith pass at the Conway 31 and angled into the right side of the end zone to open the scoring inside the first two minutes. Williams’ pick was the first of three for the hosts in the first half. Tyquan Huntley and DeAnte McGraw made the other Bearcat interceptions as Rock Hill’s defense held Conway’s talented, 6-foot-3 sophomore receiver Bryan Edwards largely in check.
“They weren’t having success with the run and we knew they were gonna’ go to No. 4 (Edwards),” said Huntley, who has two interceptions in as many games this season. “As soon as they went to that route, I just sat on it and picked it.”
The hosts doubled their lead in the second quarter. Zhenya Deller’s 35-yard field goal try fell short of the goalposts, but Bearcat special teamers alertly downed the ball at the Conway 2. After Conway was forced to punt, Rock Hill took advantage of cushy field position, Banks cleverly pump-faking a pass to the corner before scurrying up the gut for a 7-yard touchdown run.
With Conway threatening to score before the halftime break, McGraw nabbed the Bearcats’ third pilfer of the half, returning the ball to the Tiger 43. Several plays later, Banks underthrew Jermaine White in the left corner of the end zone, but the senior receiver wrestled the 50-50 ball away from the defensive back for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead at the break.
A Justin Stokes pinball catch and run from 8 yards and a 2-yard smash by Jau’Quan Feaster put the Bearcats up 35-0 in the fourth quarter and within three minutes of their first defensive shutout since the 2009 season. But Edwards tacked on a pair of touchdown catches in the last two minutes to spoil the clean sheet.
Amidst the afterglow on the District 3 turf, Montgomery told his team “this is our chance. This is our chance.” He was referring to the Bearcats’ trip to Dutch Fork next Friday to face the Silver Foxes, defending state finalists, and the No. 4 Class AAAA team.
“That’s where we’ve got to make the step,” Montgomery said. “That’s where we’ve got to get the program back to where we’re competing with the top-10 teams on a regular basis. We need to take that step against Dutch Fork.”