HONEA PATH – Belton-Honea Path stopped Clinton just short of a second straight trip to the Class 3A Upper State Championship game Friday night with a 27-24 victory over the Red Devils.
Marquis Henderson, a NCAA Division I prospect at running back with a handful of Power 5 conference offers, ran 31 times for 172 yards and a pair of touchdowns to lead the unbeaten Bears (13-0). BHP will face undefeated Daniel (13-0) next Friday for a berth in the Class 3A state title game.
“That’s a good football team,” said Clinton head coach Corey Fountain of BHP. “We’re out here, and we were battling. I’m super proud of all our seniors, and our guys laid it all out here. These guys gave every single ounce of effort that they could get. We’re proud of them.”
The Red Devils finished their season at 10-3 overall and a second straight Region 4-3A championship. A year ago, Clinton eliminated BHP from the second round of the Class 3A playoffs with a 28-13 victory.
This year, the tables were turned.
Henderson dashed untouched up the middle for a 40-yard touchdown on BHP’s first play from scrimmage, but that was only the first salvo in a physical, back-and-forth battle.
The Red Devils answered with a pair of second-quarter Tray Cook touchdown runs – both from 1 yard out – as the Red Devils took a 14-10 lead at halftime. The first was set up by a 27-yard run by quarterback Tushawan Richardson and the second by a 51-yard pass from Richardson to Zay Johnson that ended just short of the end zone.
Richardson ran for 145 yards and threw for 122 yards and a touchdown on 6 of 19 passing. Johnson finished with three catches for 92 yards.
The Bears defense was able to hold senior receiver Kadon Crawford, who had been utilized in Wildcat formations as a rusher, receiver and occasional passer over the second half of the season, in check. Crawford had two catches for 19 yards, one carry for five yards and attempted one pass that was intercepted in the first half.
A gritty Clinton defense forced BHP to turn the ball over on downs twice in the first half to thwart drives, but the Bears capped an 11-play, 69-yard drive with a 22-yard Peter Bertoni field goal with 13 seconds to go before halftime.
It turned out to be a pivotal score.
BHP opened the second half with a touchdown drive capped by Henderson’s second score – a 32-yard run – that ended a drive that took up the first five minutes of the third quarter to take the lead at 17-14.
Keegan Fortman’s 26-yard field goal tied the game at 17-17 with 1:14 remaining in the third quarter, but the Bears answered again with a 28-yard Bertoni field goal to go up 20-17 with 6:26 to play.
But BHP all but put the Red Devils away on Jakyri Anderson’s 65-yard interception return for a touchdown. On third down and 10, Anderson stepped in front of a Richardson pass and raced to the end zone to hand BHP a 27-17 lead with 3:33 to play.
Clinton put together one last scoring drive that ended when Richardson found Johnson over the middle for a 29-yard touchdown that cut the lead to 27-24 with 1:42 left in the game, but the Red Devils has used all three of their timeouts and were unable to stop the clock as the Bears salted the game away.