Carolina Forest left no doubt Friday night as to what program ruled Region 6-5A in 2019.
The Panthers (8-1) completed a dominant run through the region with yet another lopsided victory Friday at The Backyard, defeating Conway 42-13 to claim the region title and a top seed in the playoffs beginning next week.
The 29-point win was the Panthers’ closest region game by far, as they won their five contests in 6-5A by a combined score of 273-41 – a average differential of more than 46 points per game.
“I feel we came out and played everyone to the best of our abilities and executed football,” Carolina Forest senior running back David Legette said. “I wasn’t surprised because with the work that we put in during the offseason, I knew something good would eventually happen.”
Legette rushed for 181 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries Friday to finish the regular season with 21 touchdowns and 24 yards shy of 1,000 rushing yards on the season, and senior quarterback Mason Garcia rushed for 90 yards and three TDs and threw for 120 to lead the Panthers.
Carolina Forest’s only loss this season is to Myrtle Beach, the top-ranked team in Class 4A and reigning 4A state champions. The Panthers are guaranteed three home playoff games if they continue to win.
“When I first got to Carolina Forest everybody kind of laughed at me when I said the goal is always to win a state championship,” said Panthers coach Marc Morris, who was hired at Carolina Forest in 2014. “The thing we haven’t done since I’ve been here is we never came in first place in the conference to kind of have a home-field advantage and get teams to at least come to our school to play. . . . Hopefully we’ll put on a good show and we’ll see how it goes.”
Conway (3-6, 3-2) also earned a home game in the first round of the playoffs by finishing second in the region after beginning the season 0-4.
“I’m extremely proud of our guys because they have been through a lot of adversity and to come back and win three region games is big for us,” Conway head coach Carlton Terry said. “You want to win them all, you want to win the region, but if you had asked people after the first four games would we be second in the region they probably would have laughed at us.
“I give our kids credit to continue to push and strive and get better. It is an accomplishment for our kids to be able to host a playoff game here at Conway next week.”
Carolina Forest held a just 14-13 lead after a first quarter in which the teams alternated touchdowns, but the Panthers pulled away by scoring the game’s final 28 points, including 21 in the second quarter.
Conway got the ball first but fumbled on the opening play from scrimmage when a handoff exchange was botched, and Carolina Forest recovered at the Tigers’ 29.
The Panthers took advantage of the short field to score on a 9-yard Garcia run just 1:24 into the game.
Conway quickly answered, as Xavier Kinlaw beat single coverage down the left sideline and Carlton Terry II hit him for a 59-yard touchdown pass just two minutes later. Junior Adam Janack blocked the extra point attempt after a poor snap.
Garcia scored on a 1-yard run to give Carolina Forest a 14-6 lead less than 6 minutes into the game, capping an eight-play, 50-yard drive.
Conway pulled within a point later in the first quarter after a horrendous possession by Carolina Forest that included three penalties in four snaps for intentional grounding and illegal procedure, three incompletions and a snap over punter Spencer Valenti’s head that gave Conway the ball at the Panthers’ 11.
Terry connected with Kinlaw on an 8-yard TD pass, rolling to his right and hitting Kinlaw cutting to the right side of the end zone with 1:20 left in the first quarter.
But Carolina was in full command from there.
Legette scored on a 12-yard run early in the second quarter before Conway stopped the Panthers on a fourth-and-4 at the 19. But the Tigers were forced to punt after three plays, leading to a Garcia 15-yard run to put the Panthers ahead 28-13.
Carolina Forest was seemingly content to take a 15-point lead into halftime on its final possession of the second quarter.
After a 5-yard penalty and 3-yard run to their own 29, the Panthers milked the play clock to get the game clock under a minute before what appeared to be an innocuous Legette run up the middle. But a hole opened and he broke loose for a 71-yd TD run, giving Carolina Forest a 35-13 halftime lead.
A six-yard Legette touchdown run late in the third quarter was the only scoring in the second half.
“They’re a very good team,” coach Terry said. “They do a good job of coaching up the kids and they have some talent over there, and it showed tonight. It’s not fun trying to stop them.”
The Panthers held Conway to fewer than 150 yards of offense and Janack intercepted Terry twice. “Our defense has done a great job all year giving our offense plenty of opportunities to score, and fortunately for us this year we’ve got a great running back in David Legette, we’ve got a really good passing game and the offensive line has really held up,” Morris said.
Terry finished 5 of 10 for 81 yards and two touchdowns with the two interceptions on deep passes. and Donovan Singleton had 42 tough yards rushing on 15 carries for the Tigers, who like the Panthers, now look ahead to the playoffs.
“On a scale of 1 to 10 [the team’s excitement level] is definitely an 11 with what we can accomplish this year. We’re very excited,” Legette said. “We’re going to use the home field advantage to the best of our ability.”
Carolina Forest 14 21 7 0 – 42
Conway 13 0 0 0 – 13
CF – Mason Garcia 9 run (Cole Poirier kick)
Con – Xavier Kinlaw 59 pass from Carlton Terry II (kick blocked)
CF – Garcia 1 run (Poirier kick)
Con – Kinlaw 8 pass from Terry (Christopher DeWitt kick)
CF – David Legette 12 run (Poirier kick)
CF – Garcia 15 run (Poirier kick)
CF – Legette 71 run (Poirier kick)
CF – Legette 6 run (Poirier kick)
Rushing – CF: David Legette 22-181, Mason Garcia 13-90; Conway: Donovan Singleton 15-42
Passing – CF: Garcia 8-17-0–120; Conway: Carlton Terry II 5-10-2–81
Receiving – CF: Kyle Watkins 5-44, Josh Murphy 1-42; Conway: Xavier Kinlaw 4-71