If the road to the 4A state championship was supposed to get more treacherous after the first round, Scotland surely didn’t get the memo.
One would be forgiven if they mistook Scotland’s 56-27 second-round dismantling of Lee County for last week’s game, which saw the Fighting Scots defeat East Chapel Hill 40-5.
In both games, Scotland exploded out of the gate with such a dominating first quarter performance that neither of their opponents knew what hit them. And against a Lee County offense that has averaged 35 points a game this season, the Scots’ defense cut a rugged pace that knocked the Jackets off-kilter from their very first possesion, which saw Scotland linebacker Chris Moss land a thunderous hit on Lee County senior quarterback Chase Arrington.
“I don’t think they played anyone like us this season,” said Moss after the game. “We came out and hit their quarterback in the mouth early, and I think this game proves that we’re really a complete unit on defense.”
It was as an efficient, decisive victory as the Scots have had all season, and they did it against a 9-2 Yellow Jackets’ squad that many predicted would pose a challenge to Scotland.
After Lee County was flagged for a halo violation on a signaled Scotland fair catch, the Scots began their first offensive possession of the game on their own 45-yard line.
Seven plays and nearly four minutes off the clock later, Scotland running back Josh McPhatter exploited a gaping hole created by his offensive line and powered right through the middle for a 25-yard touchdown run.
On the Yellow Jackets’ ensuing drive, Arrington showcased the throwing ability that Scotland coach Richard Bailey feared heading into the game via a beautiful 31-yard connection with Ray J McAuley on an out route. Prior to Friday’s game, Bailey said that Arrington “was as good a QB as we’ve faced this year.”
But largely due in part to a Scotland pass rush that repeatedly hurried Arrington, Lee County’s first drive stalled on Scotland’s 45-yard line.
The Yellow Jackets opted to punt the ball, and it was Scotland cornerback Ryan Leak who fielded the ball at the Scots’ own 20-yard line. After a brief run to the right side of the field, Leak would stop on a dime and reverse directions, and from there the senior defensive back outran the entire special teams unit of Lee County for a 80-yard punt return for a touchdown.
In the blink of an eye, Scotland vaulted to a 14-0 lead. And the Scots were nowhere near done.
A booming kick from Scotland’s Ben Utter on the next play from scrimmage would further add to Lee County’s woes, as the Yellow Jackets were forced to engineer an offensive drive from deep in their own territory midway through the first quarter.
The subsequent drive ended on a three-and-out, and Scotland regained possession at Lee County’s 37-yard line. After Scots’ wide receiver Justin Brown made an acrobatic 15-yard catch on a Ratliffe toss, the ball was once again placed in McPhatter’s hands, and the result was another touchdown run, this time from 21-yards out.
It was the second of three first-quarter rushing touchdowns for McPhatter, who ran for 60 yards and three scores in the quarter alone.
“Josh ran the ball hard for us tonight,” said Scotland coach Richard Bailey. “And on top of that, (Scotland running back) Jalen McLean blocked extremely well for him tonight too.”
When the second quarter began, Scotland had opened up a 28-0 lead over the Yellow Jackets.
Though Scotland’s game-breaking offense didn’t give Lee County a sufficient chance to get rolling, Arrington’s wide receiving core didn’t do him any favors in the second quarter. After a Ratliffe interception opened the quarter and gave the Yellow Jackets possession inside their own five-yard line, Arrington came out swinging with a 35-yard completion to Tre Wells.
However, Arrington’s next three throws, all on target, were inexplicably dropped by his wide receiving contingent and forced the Jackets to punt.
The drops would haunt Lee County almost immediately, as Scotland’s next series saw Ratliffe find the left sidelines for an 80-yard quarterback keeper for another Scots’ score.
Now fully in free fall mode, the Jackets lost a fumble on an attempted kickoff return, which was recovered by the Fighting Scots. On the subsequent drive, Ratliffe would find a wide open Tra’Shawn Gregory for a 37-yard touchdown pass to further pile on Lee County.
And the defense, which held the Jackets to just 106 combined yards in the first half (and heralded Lee County running back James Foushee to just 12 yards on eight carries), also got in on the scoring action in the waning minutes of the second quarter.
Forced outside of the pocket as his offensive line was yet again overwhelmed by Scotland’s interior pressure, Arrington would be sacked in his own backfield and coughed up the football in the process. In perfect position to recover the fumble was 250-pound Scotland defensive lineman Avery Simmons, who found running room and rumbled for a 25-yard touchdown.
The score gave Scotland a 49-0 advantage, which they would carry into halftime.
With Scotland’s second unit in on both sides of the football, Lee County scored all 27 of their points in the final two quarters of regulation. Arrington completed touchdown passes of five, 14 and 30 yards to wide receiver T.J Lett, and Foushee finally found some running room of his own with a 12-yard touchdown run which finally put the Jackets on the scoreboard.
Even as the Jackets attempted to go out swinging in the final minutes, Scotland senior linebacker Brodrick McLean made his presence felt with a definitive final statement over Lee County. After a Scotland blitz forced a backpedaling Arrington into an errant throw, McLean was right there to make the catch, and would subsequently take the ball to the house via the 45-yard interception for a touchdown.
“I’m proud of our guys and I’m proud of the effort the second team gave out there as well,” Bailey said. “Our defense played lights out, and it’s safe to say that their quarterback wasn’t used to getting hit like he did in that first half of football.”
Scotland’s third round opponent will be the 11-1 E.E. Smith Golden Bulls, a team that Bailey says “can match up with us athlete for athlete.”