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The Clover High School football team — depleted in varsity numbers but armed with in fortitude and grit — had Lancaster on the ropes two weeks ago before bowing to the Bruins down the stretch.
Though the Blue Eagles lost to Lancaster, it was a game the players knew they could have won. There was reason to ponder the what-ifs after extending the Bruins to the limit.
Sandwiched between the Lancaster game and Friday's clash at Fort Mill was a date with South Pointe, referred to by some high school prognosticators as the elite team in the Palmetto State this year.
The unbeaten Stallions are the defending state 3A champions, with visions of capturing the 4A title this year. They've won two state championships the last six years and played for another.
Last Friday, the Blue Eagles and their loyal fan base found out why as South Pointe prevailed 42-0 at Memorial Stadium. “South Pointe is a great team,” said interim head coach John Barrett.
There's not much else he could say.
This Friday represents a different set of circumstances as the Blue Eagles travel to upstart Fort Mill for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff. Though the Yellow Jackets are improved, the Blue Eagles have a positive mindset entering Friday's clash.
While Barrett likes the Blue Eagles' chances, he is keenly aware of Fort Mill's resurgence.
“Their offense is the best I've seen in awhile,” he said. “They run the wing bone out of the gun, using misdirection. They have good team speed and the quarterback is a good athlete.”
Barrett noted that the Yellow Jackets aren't without size along the offensive front.
“They have the biggest offensive line in the region,” he said.
Fort Mill had the offense clicking in the team's 42-18 conquest of Lancaster last week, rallying past the Bruins in the third quarter for the win.
Barrett said the key to success Friday is like every game the Blue Eagles play.
“We need to move the ball out of the wing-T and keep the defense off the field,” commented Barrett. “It would help to score early like we did at Lancaster.”
The Blue Eagles' most productive offensive performance was 246 yards net rushing against a talented Nation Ford team in a game that marked the return of the wing-T offensive scheme made popular by former head coaches Jet Turner and Marty Woolbright.
Asked if a grind-it-out offensive showing equal to the performance in the Nation Ford game could make the difference Friday night, Barrett nodded yes with a grin.
Senior outside linebacker Shantarius Brown, a steadying influence for the Blue Eagles throughout the season, has positive vibes about Friday's game.
“We need to forget what's happened in the past and be ready to pay,” said Brown after a two-hour Monday practice. “The defense needs to tackle better and lock up.”
Brown has embraced a leadership role his senior year.
“I tell the younger players on the team to keep their heads up through good and bad times and to remember why they are playing the game,” he said. “There's more to football than wins and losses.
“It builds character and prepares you for the game of life.”
Brown's commitment to the program is steadfast when adversity creeps in.
“I am proud to wear the Blue Eagle uniform,” he said.
Junior defensive end Ryan Fredell is primed for Friday's game. “The key defensively is to defend the pass,” he said. “They run the ball a lot but can throw it.”
Brown is aware of Fort Mill's size advantage.
“We just have to play with better technique,” he stressed.