Darlington fades, Hartsville clinches region
By Drake Horton, Contributing Writer
Coaches preach every day for their players to give max effort. The consensus thought is that as long as your players give you max effort every day in practice and on every play in every game that is all a coach can ask for.
And the truth is if you were to ask any coach for any sport right now if they believed that statement was true the majority, if not all would completely agree. Unfortunately, max effort does not guarantee a victory and that was the case for Darlington.
Going against the Hartsville Red Foxes, the defending 3A lower state champions, Darlington knew it was going to need more than effort, which it has provided an abundance of in each game it’s played in this season. It was going to need execution and with the game on the road in Kelleytown, the execution was going to need to be nearly flawless.
For the Falcons it was able to do that for one half, but not for the other and that ended up leading to a 57-19 victory for the Red Foxes, who clinched the region six, 3A title in the process and completed their third undefeated regular season in four years.
“I thought our guys did good job coming ready to play,” Darlington head coach John Jones said after the game. “We made a couple mistakes on the opening drive, but after that they settled down a little bit. That second half, we have to put together four quarters and we didn’t put four quarters together.”
Hartsville got the early lead in the first quarter when Brian Rivers trotted into the end zone from roughly six yards out, but Darlington did not flinch as the Falcons answered the Red Foxes touchdown as Frankie Johnson scrambled from one side of the field to other leading to Thomas Wheeler’s 35-yard touchdown reception on fourth and 13.
Down 7-6 after the extra point got blocked, Hartsville made another big time special teams’ play as the Red Foxes Riquan Cotton returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards for the touchdown as Hartsville increased its lead to 14-6.
But as Darlington has done so many times this season, it answered the challenge and refused to give in. With the Hartsville crowd rocking, the Falcons marched down the field and scored as Frankie hit Wheeler again, this time on a screen pass, for a 16-yard touchdown reception.
The Falcons attempted to tie the game at 14, going for the two-point conversion, but Frankie’s pass came up just short and Hartsville held on to the lead at 14-12.
Hartsville capped off the second quarter with Shy McPhail’s nine-yard touchdown run and 36-yard field goal by Miller Braddock to give the Red Foxes a 24-12 lead at the half.
In the second half Hartsville dominated Darlington, outscoring the Falcons 33 to seven, with the Falcons lone score coming at the 8:45 mark when Elmo Johnson rushed from six yards out.
That lone score though was a pure example of the effort and refusal to throw in the towel that this Falcons team has possessed this whole season.
With Hartsville up 43-12, Frankie out of the game due to an injury, and being on the road most would have figured Darlington would just roll over and let Hartsville finish the game off. That, however, is not the Falcons’ style and it was evident with that touchdown drive and the consistent pursuit that the defense did on the Red Foxes running backs.
“These guys don’t quit,” Jones said, referring to his team’s effort. “I can say a lot about everything in the world and they don’t quit. Those guys, they played their butts off, they play for four quarters. They play really hard, we just have to execute. Our problem is we have yet to execute for four quarters.”
Darlington’s record now drops to 5-4 and the Falcons head back to the Falcons Nest for the Final game of the year, a make-up game against the Manning Monarchs, which had been postponed earlier in the season due to the historic flooding that took place in the state.
The Falcons will celebrate senior night against the Monarchs.
The Lamar Silver Foxes pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the state this past Friday, defeating the McBee Panthers, who before the game were ranked as the number one team in the state in 1A.
The Silver Foxes won by a score of 21-13 and in doing so clinched region three, 1A.