The Gaffney Indians came up with turnovers on the first two possessions of the second half and converted both fumbles into touchdowns to erase a 10-7 halftime deficit. The visitors held on for the 21-10 victory Friday night in Rock Hill to eliminate the Northwestern Trojans for the second straight year, this time in the second round of the 5A playoffs. Both years, the Indians avenged a regular season loss.
“We made mistakes and in the playoffs you can’t make mistakes,” Northwestern head coach James Martin said.
Martin was named the interim coach the week before the first Gaffney game, which the Trojans won 17-13. He led them to a region title and was very emotional after the game trying to put into words how he felt about his football team.
“Life is hard,” Martin said he told the players in the locker room. “You can’t quit. And we just love ’em. We’re a family. They didn’t quit and they could have.”
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Gaffney took the opening drive 18 plays and Jaquez Smith punched it in on fourth-and-one for the 7-0 lead. The Indians held the ball for 7:37 on the drive. Northwestern gave the ball right back three plays later when quarterback Dustin Noller was sacked and fumbled. But the Trojan defense held and Gaffney missed a 29-yard field goal wide left.
Northwestern took possession and went 80 yards in 14 plays to tie the game. Noller hit Jordan Starkes for the 13-yard score at 10:33 of the first half. The key play was a fourth-and-one conversion from their own 44 on the first play of the second quarter. Starkes took the direct snap and went for three yards.
The Indians faked a punt on the next possession, but came up short. The Trojans drove and Thomas Gettys hit a 39-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead.
Gaffney drove and threatened late in the half, but Freddie Cunningham broke up a pass at the goalline and a diving Trey McCullough picked it off in the end zone with 44.7 seconds left. Northwestern led 10-7 at the half.
The Trojans fumbled on the opening second half possession on their own 43 and Gaffney made it hurt. Shrine Bowl running back Cameron Rice would score on an 8-yard run to give the Indians the 14-10 lead.
Northwestern drove to the Indians’ 28, but fumbled away a pitch and Gaffney returned it to the Trojans’ 25. Four plays later, Jaquez Smith took it 17 yards to the house on fourth-and-two to make it 21-10 Indians.
▪ Northwestern fumbled three times and lost all three. Gaffney did not fumble although they did throw one interception.
▪ The Trojans were held to 66 yards rushing on 19 carries. Only three of those carries were by a running back, for 16 yards.
▪ Standout Trojan receiver Jamario Holley was held to 30 yards on four catches.
Jordan Starkes had 69 yards on eight catches and a touchdown for the Trojans.
JaQuez Smith had two touchdowns for Gaffney. Dennis Smith caught six passes for 65 yards. Tyshun Sarratt was 17-for-22 for 160 yards.
The Indians move on to face Hillcrest. Northwestern finishes the season 7-5 and won the Region 4-5A championship.
Gaffney 21, Northwestern 10
Gaffney - Jaquez Smith 1 run (Marcos Mosqueda kick) 4:23
Northwestern - Jordan Starkes 13 pass from Dustin Noller (Thomas Gettys kick) 10:33
Northwestern - Gettys 39 field goal 5:35
Gaffney - Cameron Rice 4 run (David Shelton kick) 8:31
Gaffney - Smith 17 run (Shelton kick) 4:42
RUSHING - Northwestern: Dustin Noller 11-35; Jordan Starkes 4-10; Jamario Holley 1-5; Marquez Cherry 3-16. Gaffney: Richard Sealy 25-83; Tyshun Sarratt 7-1; Jaquez Smith 4-21; Kelvin Kirby 3-8; Cameron Rice 5-15; Dennis Smith 1-5.
PASSING - Northwestern: Noller 22-37-1-0, 190 yards. Gaffney: Sarratt 17-22-0-1, 160 yards.
RECEIVING - Northwestern: Jamaar Moore 7-47; Ger-Cari Caldwell 3-44; Starkes 8-69; Holley 4-30. Gaffney: D. Smith 6-65; Terry Littlejohn 2-33; Josh Fair 4-29; Myell White 2-8; Tamerio Phillips 2-17; Hunter Bullock 1-8.
RECORDS - Northwestern: 7-5; Gaffney 8-4.