When the final seconds ticked off the clock in the Fighting Scots’ 20-12 win over Marlboro County, two streaks were broken. The first was the Bulldogs’ run of eight-straight quarters holding opponents to zero points, which promptly ended in the first quarter on a 23-yard field goal by Scotland’s Ben Utter.
The second was Scotland’s losing streak, which was halted after just one week following the Fighting Scots’ loss to New Hanover.
And to move to 2-1 on the season, Scotland established a relentless physicality that left the Bulldogs battered and bruised by the fourth quarter.
The first half of regulation was defined by Scotland’s stout defense and special teams play as well as numerous miscues made by the Bulldogs.
Marlboro County started their first offensive series with three consecutive high snaps before muffing the ensuing punt which landed at the Scots’ 44-yard line. The first Scotland drive was equally unsuccessful, as Marlboro County corner-back Shaquille Campbell sent Fighting Scots’ sophomore quarterback Jaylend Ratliffe careening out of bounds after a vicious hit.
Ratliffe appeared out of rhythm in the first half of play, tossing an interception to end the second quarter and failing to complete a pass.
But as the Scots tried to find their identity on offense, it was Utter who set his team up for success. After their first failed offensive series, Utter kicked a booming punt that landed at the Bulldogs’ own eight yard line.
And on defense, junior defensive lineman Shy’Keim Oliver was dominant in the first quarter as well, recording a sack and frequently collapsing the pocket which led to Marlboro County amassing just four rushing yards in the first quarter.
Perhaps most importantly for the Fighting Scots, the ground game that was so ineffective last week against New Hanover appeared to be back on track in the first half. Josh McPhatter was the Scots’ home run hitter in the half, including a 18-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter.
And contrasting last week’s mistake-riddled first half, Scotland didn’t register a single penalty in the first 24 minutes of the game.
While Scotland proved successful in righting many of last week’s wrongs, Marlboro County quarterback Xavier Adams was razor sharp in the first half. Adams punctuated the second quarter with 11 consecutive pass completions, including a 36-yard touchdown strike to senior running back Jaquan Cole.
But emotions got the better of Marlboro County in the first half, evidenced by a Bulldogs defensive play late in the second quarter. A forced pass up the middle from Ratliffe led to a tie-up between Scots’ wideout Tyron Jones and Campbell which resulted in a pass interference play. Though Campbell came up with the ball for an apparent interception, he subsequently spiked the ball afterwards, leading officials to call a 15-yard excessive celebration penalty that amounted to a 25-yard swing. It would lead to a Scotland 21-yard field goal by Utter to put the Scots up 13-6 heading into halftime.
After starting the third quarter with a failed offensive drive, Scotland found themselves in a position that echoed last week’s game: attempting to stop a time-consuming drive. Marlboro County executed an 11-play, eight-minute series that concluded with a one-handed touchdown grab from Fred David. However, the Bulldogs would miss their second PAT of the game that kept Scotland ahead 13-12.
While Scotland’s offense was kept off the field for the majority of a scoreless third quarter, Ratliffe would finally emerge from his first half slump, converting a huge 4th-and-7 via a 12-yard pass to the ever-reliable TreShawn Gregory. The quarter would end shortly thereafter.
The momentum the Fighting Scots built at the tail end of the third quarter would carry over into the fourth. Ratliffe opened the quarter by completing a dump pass to running back Jalen McLean who would break free for a 14-yard gain that put the Fighting Scots inside the five yard line. The next play would be a bruising touchdown run for McPhatter that put Scotland up 20-12.
The game was far from over however, as Adams continued to produce under center. Adams opened up the Bulldogs’ first offensive drive of the quarter with four straight completions for 31 yards. But Scotland set the defensive tone of the quarter with a pair of brutal hits, including one which left the Bulldogs’ Cole dazed on the ground after Artemis Robinson and Ryan Leak converged on the running back after a catch.
McPhatter and McLean would help seal the game for Scotland in the fourth quarter on the subsequent drive, combining for several big-time first downs to devour the time of possession.
For more on this story, including stats, quotes and additional highlights, check back in Tuesday’s edition of the Laurinburg Exchange.