South suffers gut-puncher
LANDIS — The verses keep changing for South Rowan’s winless football team, but the song remains the same.
Friday’s 45-36 homecoming night loss to Cox Mill sounded an all-too-familiar refrain — only this time the Raiders may have beaten themselves.
“We win as a team and we lose as a team,” coach Jason Rollins said after South yielded two touchdowns in the final two minutes. “That’s all I can say.”
That’s all he did — and who could blame him? On a night when South (0-6, 0-4 SPC) dominated the ground game, scored touchdowns on three of its first four possessions and forced three turnovers, it still came up short.
“We really thought this was going to be the night,” senior Derrick Blackwell said after rumbling for 190 yards and all five SR touchdowns. “This would be the victory that changes our season around.”
Instead, it’s a loss that anchored them in the conference basement. Adding insult to injury, South’s top two quarterbacks — starter Aaron Kennerly and backup Matthew Honeycutt — finished the game on the sideline nursing unspecified injuries.
“It’s just a tough loss for us,” said defensive lineman Alex Parham. “We fought as hard as we could on defense. This was supposed to be the game that put us over the hill. We played it with our heads held high.”
Cox Mill (3-4, 2-2) managed only 11 first downs and 75 rushing yards, but prevailed with a dramatic, late charge up that hill. South led 21-9 in the second quarter and 36-31 after its defense mugged running back Trevor Gichaba in the end zone for a safety with 9:39 remaining.
“Before the game we talked about character, about being patient,” said winning coach Craig Stewart, a South Rowan grad and former baseball and football standout. “And about executing when it mattered the most.”
South was still in the driver’s seat when Marshall Long’s fourth-quarter punt took an unfavorable bounce, netted the Raiders only 16 yards and settled on the SR 28. On first-and-10 Cox Mill quarterback Hunter Longmire lofted his third TD pass of the game to uncovered Devin Cobb in the end zone. Only 1:57 remained.
“There were bad connections back there,” said Blackwell, a defensive back who also made a third-period interception.
South regained possession but lost Kennerly (8-for-16 for 88 yards) on a nine-yard sack. Honeycutt was activated and misfired on his first pass attempt. His second was picked off by CM linebacker Cory Cline and returned 30 yards for game-clinching touchdown with 1:08 to go.
“(Cline) is an eight-quarter kid,” Stewart reported. “We played him up this week, he got some playing time and he produced.”
Afterward in the morgue-like South dressing room, players slouched near their lockers and those who moved did so slowly. The stain from this loss may take a while to erase.
“It looked promising for a long while,” Parham explained. “But things just happened.”
NOTES: South’s Eric Stowe also intercepted a pass in the third quarter. Teammate Burke Fulcher recovered a fumble in the second period. The Raiders still lost the turnover battle 4-3. ...Blackwell ran for 72 yards in the opening quarter and capped well-managed scoring drives with his first two touchdowns.