Keegan Fortman’s field goal and Zay Johnson’s touchdown catch gave Clinton a glimmer of hope late in a 27-24 loss at #2 in the state Belton-Honea Path. Unfortunately, the two Red Devil scores sandwiched a BHP pick six with 3:47 left in Friday night’s game.
This was the third round of the Class AAA Upper State playoffs. It was decided before the season began that when the playoffs reached this point the Region 4 advancing team – in this case Clinton – would have to play on the road.
It was Clinton’s first road contest of the playoffs after home wins over Palmetto and Broome. BHP remains undefeated on the season, but this was the first time this season that the Bears trailed at halftime (Clinton was up 14-10 after a shaky start).
Clinton ends the season 10-3 – this was a 3-point loss and Clinton’s loss to Chapman was by 1 point. As it turned out, BHP’s winning difference was a field goal with 13 seconds left in the first half, as Clinton surrendered just two offensive touchdowns on breakaway runs totaling 72 yards.
Tushawan Richardson led a Clinton running attack that went for 184 yards, with 145 yards of his own, and completed 6 passes in 19 attempts for 184 yards – the long pass was 51 yards to Johnson.
Johnson finished with 92 receiving yards including a 29-yard touchdown reception with 1:50 left in the game from Richardson, that gave Clinton the chance to make an onside kick. But BHP recovered, then went backward with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and victory formations that left the Bears with a 3rd and 42 from their own 29 as the game ended.
Clinton outgained BHP, 306 to 271 yards.
“Just a lot of credit to BHP, that’s a good football team,” Clinton Football Head Coach Corey Fountain said. “We were out here battling and I’m super proud of our seniors. They laid it all on the line; if anybody wasn’t here at the game these guys gave every single ounce of effort they could give. We’re proud of them and we love those guys. This is a good group of football players. The young guys are going to take this loss and they’re going to use it as fire and momentum going into the off season to work. Just super disappointed we didn’t get it done.”
BHP looked every bit the #2 team in Class AAA in the state when it scored on a 40-yard run the first time its offense touched the ball. But the Devil D held twice on 4th down and the Bears carried just a 7-point lead into the second quarter.
Richardson ran to the 1 and Tray Cook finished off the score that knotted the game at 7. After a Chris Boyd interception, Richardson’s pass to Johnson went to the 1 and Cook again found pay dirt. BHP went from its own 25 to the Clinton 20 on a pass reception that fell to the ground, ruled complete, and that gave the Bears the chance to end the first half scoring with a field goal.
BHP opened the second half with a 32-yard scoring run. Clinton overcame two penalty flags to convert a 4th down to the BHP 29, and on a 4th and 13 Richardson run, a BHP facemask penalty set up Clinton at the Bears 10. Fortman’s game-tying kick capped a 71-yard Clinton drive. BHP ended the 3rd quarter by recovering its own fumble.
The Bears drove again for a 28-yard field goal to gain a 20-17 lead. A Richardson run converted a 3rd and 10 for Clinton to the BHP 46, but on 4th and 10 the Bears got their game-clinching pick six, taking a 27-17 lead with 3:47 left to play. Clinton had one more touchdown up its sleeve (Richardson to Johnson) but could not recover its high-bounce onside kick. BHP moves on in the playoffs to take on #1 Daniel, a 49-20 winner over Chester, the #2 team in Region 4 where Clinton was the #1 Region Champion in back to back seasons.
Reflecting on his seniors, whose two-season record is 23-4, playing their final high school game, Fountain said, “Every senior is going to have to hang it up. These guys, they helped turn this program around. As eighth graders they worked hard, then as ninth graders, then as tenth graders we had them and they bought in to what it means to be a Red Devil. When we get knocked down, we get back up and keep pushing forward … these guys, they moved forward all game long.”