IRMO — Surrounded by his players on the Dutch Fork field, Carolina Forest coach Marc Morris acknowledged what his team already knew.
This one stung. The Panthers’ 45-20 loss to the Silver Foxes Friday ended the best season in Carolina Forest history. They won the region and went 11-2. They were a game away from playing for a state title. At some point, Morris told his team, they should reflect on the entire season, not the way it ended.
“I’m so proud of you right now I can’t stand it,” he said. “It’s unreal. … I know our community’s proud of you.”
Despite the lopsided final score, Carolina Forest played Dutch Fork close early in the contest. Quarterback Mason Garcia put the Panthers up 7-0 at the 6:26 mark of the first quarter when he punched it in from just inside the 5 yard line. The Silver Foxes then put together a long drive, going for it on fourth-and-1 from the Carolina Forest 2. Dutch Fork picked up the first down, and running back Jonathan Hall plunged into the end zone on the next play to tie the game. The Panthers again responded, taking a 14-7 lead on a 29-yard strike from Garcia to wideout Josh Murphy.
“We had our chances there,” Morris said.
But Dutch Fork quickly marched down the field and Hall bounded into the end zone again, tying the game at 14 apiece with 6:21 left in the half.
The Panthers’ aggressive game plan — they kept the punt team on the sidelines — finally cracked late in the first half.
With the game still tied, they tried to go for it on fourth down — they had been successful three times already — but they came up short. That left Dutch Fork with the ball on the Silver Foxes' own 36 with under a minute and a half to play.
It’s at this point that Dutch Fork showed why they have been the No. 1-ranked 5A team throughout the season and boast a 39-game unbeaten streak. Another quick drive ended with a Hall touchdown, giving Dutch Fork a 21-14 lead with 28.8 seconds left in the half. Then Carolina Forest’s Trevor Lavallee fumbled on the kickoff return and Dutch Fork added a 21-yard field goal as time expired.
In the span of 1:20, a tie became a 10-point deficit.
“They’re a good football team,” Morris said.
The Silver Foxes began pulling away in the third quarter and Hall capped the scoring with a 70-yard touchdown run — his sixth TD of the game — to give Dutch Fork a 45-14 lead with 9:06 to go in the contest.
Carolina Forest would find the end zone once more on a five-yard touchdown pass from Garcia to Kyle Watkins, but the game was well out of reach by that point.
Despite the loss, Carolina Forest players said they’re proud of what they accomplished this season.
“It’s incredible,” senior lineman Mason McCue said. “We fought to the end.”
Garcia pointed out that many of his teammates watched Morris change the culture of the Carolina Forest program during his six years here, guiding them from underachievers to contenders. Now the Panthers expect to win.
“They always had that momentum of coming into big games and winning and making history,” the senior quarterback said. “Coach Morris fought all year with us and we stand where we are.”
As for Morris, he’s optimistic about the future of the Carolina Forest program, and he wants to continue building on what this team achieved.
“Just watching our community come together, watching the support we’ve had, man, it’s been outstanding,” he said. “Ain’t got any complaints. It’s been an unbelievable ride. Just fell short tonight.”