Panthers suffer first defeat in showdown with Knights

The Carolina Forest offense watched nearly helplessly as Ailym Ford did what he’s done to so many others in the past.

The West Florence tailback put on a performance for the ages in the second half Friday night at Florence’s Memorial Stadium and led his Knights squad to not only a 51-44 victory, but also into the driver’s seat for the Region VI-5A championship and a shot at homefield advantage for the first three rounds of the playoffs.

On the flip side of that, the Panthers and coach Marc Morris finished short of winning what would have been arguably the biggest regular-season game in school history.

“What do you say about [Ford]?” Morris asked rhetorically. “The sad thing is we thought our kids were doing a good job fitting up where they needed to fit up. We just couldn’t get him down. He’s a great player.”

In the first half, the normally electric Ford was relatively contained. He rushed for 63 yards and was kept out of the end zone.

After halftime, it was a different story. The 5-foot-9 running back – announced earlier in the week as one of the five finalists for South Carolina’s Mr. Football honor – put up 268 more yards, four touchdowns and three two-point conversions. He finished with 331 rushing yards, roughly one year after he piled up 290 against Carolina Forest.

His effort squashed what had been a pretty stellar evening for the Panthers offense. David Legette ran for 215 yards three touchdowns and quarterback Mason Garcia also had 105 yards and two scores on the ground and another 146 yards passing.

It simply wasn’t enough to keep up with Ford and West quarterback Cooper Wallace (129 yards rushing). Ford ended the high-scoring evening with his final touchdown 2:43 to go, and the Knights’ defense held on from there to close out the win.

“I knew when we got here we had some guys who could turn the corner and help us win,” said first-year Knights coach Jody Jenerette, who never won a region title in his 13 seasons at Aynor. “We’ll find out the next two games. Hopefully we can find a way to get them.”

Theoretically, these two teams and Conway (3-0 in region play) could all finish in a three-way tie for first place. However, Carolina Forest is trying not to worry about that moving into next week’s rivalry game against Conway.

The Panthers will need to win that game to stay alive for a top-two finish and a first-round home postseason game – something that has yet to happen since the school moved to the state’s largest classification in 2008.

“We’re going to move on,” Garcia said. “By all means, we have to put this behind us. We have to compete all week [in practice] and get ready for Friday.”

Said Morris: “Next week is crucial. Conway is going to come in 3-0. Our kids are going to have to bounce back.”

Photo by Janet Morgan/myhorrynews

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