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ROCK HILL – Black Friday had a much different meaning for the 2008 Lancaster Bruins’ football season.
A disappointing end to the LHS season – not the official launch day to the yule holiday shopping season when merchants seek to “finish in the black” – saw the Bruins fall to offensive-mined Northwestern High School of Rock Hill, 45-14 in the Class AAAA state semifinals.
The Trojans’ 31-point win at District Three Stadium sends them to Clemson University’s Death Valley for a Friday night clash with Rock Hill area rival South Pointe to decide the Class AAAA Div. II state champion.
The SP Stallions dashed to a 55-14 win over Laurens at the same time Northwestern was rolling to its win over the Bruins, who finished their season 10-4.
The loss was tough enough, but the Bruins were hindered early by the loss of two key players – junior quarterback Matt Reese and senior defensive back Brion Strothers – to first-half injuries.
“You lose your quarterback on offense (Reese) and your quarterback on defense (Strothers) and that really puts you in a bind,” Lancaster High School head coach Bennie McMurray said. “We kept battling and fighting as we have all season, but with those two out, it hinders what you want to do.”
McMurray was seeking to get a strong game out of Reese and the rest of the offense in hopes of keeping the potent Trojans’ attack on the home sideline, but LHS was handicapped somewhat with Reese’s early departure with a shoulder injury.
Northwestern, with its vaunted “Air Raid” passing attack, was able to control the game with its throwing game as LHS was without its secondary leader in Strothers, who injured an ankle.
Rifle-armed Trojans’ sophomore quarterback Justin Worley made the most of the situation, throwing for five touchdowns and 351 yards.
The Trojans broke on top with a special teams play after trading possessions. Northwestern ace senior running back Jarrett Neely returned a Mike Catoe punt 55 yards to the LHS two-yard where he was stopped with a shirt-tail tackle.
“The punt return got it going for us,” Northwestern coach Moose Wallace said. “It was a big play early.”
The determined Lancaster defense made the Trojans earn every yard to the end zone, with Worley scoring on a fourth-and-goal snap from the one. Shawn Ferguson added the first of six extra points to give the Trojans a 7-0 lead with 5:26 to play in the opening period.
From there, the Trojans, 13-1, steadily built their lead. Early in the second period, Worley heaved the first of his five touchdown passes, connecting with Cordarelle Patterson on a 49-yard scoring strike for a 14-0 lead with 8:11 left in the half.
“Our offense really played well,” said Wallace of the Trojans, who are averaging 44 points in three playoff wins.
Northwestern scored just before the half, with Worley, who was 27-37 passing, connecting with Neely on an 18-yard touchdown pass for a 21-0 edge.
“They just had too many weapons,” McMurray said. “We couldn’t slow them down.”
“I thought we did a good job stopping the run, but we couldn’t stop the ‘Air Raid,’ ” said LHS senior linebacker Stephno Drakeford. “They found the open man and Worley didn’t throw too many bad balls.”
Northwestern came out smoking in the second half, with Worley capping a 78-yard drive on a four-yard scoring pass to Julian Patton, who had seven catches for 68 yards, for a 28-0 lead with 5:32 to play in the third period.
LHS answered quickly with Bruins’ junior quarterback Derrick Kirkland, in for the injured Reese, hitting LHS senior receiver Michael Catoe on a 62-yard scoring pass with 4:37 to play in the third period. Anna Funderburk’s extra point made it 28-7.
Back came the Trojans as Worley connected with Labris Adams on a 17-yard scoring pass late in the third period to give NWHS a 35-7 edge. Adams caught six balls for 88 yards.
Early in the final period, Worley gave the Trojans a 42-7 lead with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Patterson, who had six catches for 79 yards.
The Trojans capped their scoring as Ferguson kicked a 28-yard field goal with 4:28 to play.
The Bruins battled to the end, with Kirkland hooking up with Shane Carter on a 31-yard pass in the final minute. Funderburk added the kick.
McMurray said the loss was tough, but he was pleased with the season, the Bruins’ first winning campaign dating back to 2001.
“Our players and coaches have done a great job this season,” McMurray said. “If somebody had told me before the season, we would have won 10 games and been a game away from a state title berth, I’d taken that.
“We have a great group of seniors and this season was something to build on,” McMurray said. “We don’t want this to be a one-year wonder.
“We want the road to the state championship to go through Lancaster,” he said.