Slow, sloppy first dooms Darlington in season opener
By Drake Horton, Contributing Writer
It was hot, it was muggy and the first half was completely ugly.
In its first game of the regular season and its first under new head coach John Jones, the Darlington Falcons were unable to give its home fans the showing it wanted, losing 31-6 to the 4A Carolina Forest Panthers on Friday night.
“We were not very prepared and that’s a 100% on me,” Jones said following the loss. “We did not play well and that’s from not being prepared well and there are no fingers to point, but back at myself. It all starts and ends with me and its 100% my fault.”
The lopsided score, however, was somewhat deceptive. Looking at the score, you might think that Carolina Forest dominated the Falcons from start to finish, but in actuality that was the farthest thing from the truth.
In a game that was truly a tale of two halves, Darlington dug itself a hole too deep to overcome after an atrocious first two quarters that saw the Falcons down 28-0 at half.
“In the first half we made a bunch of mistakes and that’s signs of a team that’s not very well prepared,” Jones said. “We blew key reads, we dropped balls, we ran the wrong tracks with our backs sometimes, we had offensive linemen blowing assignments, we dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone, we had wide receiver run the wrong route, we had two fumbles, things we can’t do.”
The Falcons actually looked as if they made so good adjustments coming out of the half, outscoring the Panther 6-3 in the final two quarters of the game. It was too little, too late; however, as the Carolina Forest’s early lead was just too much to overcome.
“You are not going to be a good football team until you wake up and come to work every day and that is what we have to learn how to do,” Jones said, discussing what his team needs to do to get better. “We have to be able to fight adversity, fight through things and we’re not there right now, but we will be.”
Starting on defense to begin the game, Darlington looked like a team shot out of a cannon, forcing Carolina Forest in a third and 11 after just the second play of the game.
That, however, was the most success the Falcons would end up having against Carolina Forest in the first half. On third and 11, the Panther broke off a 10-yard run and followed that up with a one-yard run on fourth and inches to move the chains.
After that Carolina Forest ran nine more plays completing a 13-play touchdown drive that ended with Dyverse Simmons running in from two yards out to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead.
If that was not a bad enough of a start, Darlington went three and out on its opening drive following the Panthers touchdown and on the Falcons punt attempt had the snap sail over the punters head, giving Carolina Forest the ball back on Darlington’s 27-yard line with 3:44 left in the first quarter.
From there it took the Panthers only three plays to capitalize on the Falcons mistakes, with Carolina Forest’s Victory Woods scoring on a 34-yard touchdown reception as the Darlington defensive back went for the interception.
Already two for two, scoring a touchdown on its first two drives of the game, Carolina Forest made it a perfect three for three, putting together a 10-play scoring drive with Woods scoring his second touchdown of the game, three-yard reception on a perfectly ran slant route.
Down 21-0 and still more than a half a quarter left in the second quarter the Falcons back luck kept going. On a deep pass to Elmo Johnson, quarterback Frankie Johnson’s pass was tipped and intercepted. Carolina Forest capitalized on the Darlington miscue, scoring just four plays later when the Panthers completed a 52-yard touchdown pass.
Darlington did show a little life in the first half following the touchdown that put the Panthers up 28-0, moving the ball down the field deep into Carolina Forest territory. There, however, the drive stalled as the Falcons dropped a touchdown pass and failed to score on fourth and goal two plays later.
The third quarter was best quarter of the night for Darlington. Coming out of halftime down by four touchdowns, both the Falcons defense and offense stepped up and showed some signs of what Jones had been talking about in the preseason.
During the quarter, Darlington’s defense intercepted Carolina Forest on back-to-back possessions with the first of the two turning into Falcons lone touchdown of the game when Frankie Johnson scored from five yards out.
Carolina Forest added a field goal on it opening drive of the fourth quarter, but that was all the Panthers did in the second half as Darlington seemed to straighten out some of its problems in the first half.
Frankie Johnson was the leading passer and rusher for the Falcons finishing nine of 15 through the air for 40 yards while rushing 15 times for 115 yards and one touchdown. Elmo Johnson was the leading receiver, finishing the night with five catches for 20 yards.
Darlington travels to Florence this Friday to take on Wilson in the second annual Virgil Wells Bowl, looking to not only get its first win of the season, but to get a win against one of its biggest rivals.
The Hartsville Red Foxes defeated the Central Eagles 52-13 and the Lamar Silver Foxes were also victorious, winning 69-14.