The A.C. Flora football team is on a mission. Not just for itself, but for every Columbia team.
“We feel like we have a chip on our shoulder,” coach Reggie Shaw said. “We have something to prove every week we play. Midlands football is not respected. That’s a goal of ours, to try to put Columbia on the map.”
At least one area team earned respect Friday night. The Falcons blasted their way past visiting Lancaster, 41-7, to advance to the third round of the Class 3A playoffs. There, they will face Emerald (10-2), which upset previously unbeaten Wren 24-21.
“We’re going to come in on Sunday and look at the film on (Emerald),” do-everything senior Denzel Johnson said. “We’re going to keep on working hard.”
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It was Johnson who put A.C. Flora (11-1) on his shoulders, leading a stout defense from his safety position while contributing at receiver, running back and in the kick return game.
He opened the night with a 48-yard touchdown run out of the wildcat formation on the Falcons’ opening possession, ignited the second half with a 90-yard kick return for a score and hauled in several acrobatic catches en route to six catches for 100 yards.
“I told him earlier, anytime Denzel touches the ball it’s a potential highlight,” Shaw said. “He’s a playmaker, he’s explosive. How he doesn’t have major offers is beyond us. A lot of people think he’s one of the best players in the state.
“I think he’s shown the last four weeks that not only was he a Shrine Bowl candidate, but he’s a D1 player. A lot of people need to get on board and see that.”
Johnson has led the Falcons since their 17-14 upset loss to Richland Northeast on Oct. 17. A.C. Flora has gone 4-0 since then, outscoring its opponents 146-41.
“We came out and wanted to show them that we were still ready in the second half,” Johnson said of his team’s dominant performance. “I saw a big hole on the return and hit it hard, just like the wildcat play.”
But A.C. Flora’s most impressive position on this chilly evening might have been on defense, where the Falcons shut down any hope of a potential shootout. Lancaster (8-4) struggled to move the ball against their relentless defensive counterparts, who held the Bruins to negative rushing yards on 22 attempts. Linebacker Lane Botkin contributed a 25-yard interception return for a score early in the first quarter.
“Defense has a bunch of athletes,” Shaw said. “We call them a bunch of junkyard dogs. They jump around and fly to the football. They’re not the biggest, but they’re fast and they get there with them.”
The Bruins’ lone score came in the fourth on a 30-yard catch from Jay Hood, who highlighted Lancaster’s performance with seven catches for 72 yards.
“Their staff has done a great job this year putting Lancaster back on the map,” Shaw said. “His guys really played hard.”
It wasn’t nearly enough against the efficient Falcons, who saw Clarence Watson net second-half touchdown runs of 18 and 48 yards, while receiver Lowndes Pope added a 29-yard scoring haul on 4th down.
F – Denzel Johnson 49 run (Joseph Charlton kick) 9:58
F – Lane Botkin 25 interception return (Charlton kick) 9:01
F – Lowndes Pope 29 catch from Brendan Greene (Charlton kick) 3:03
F – Johnson 90 return (kick failed) 11:45
F – Clarence Watson 18 run (Thomas McCutchen kick) 2:37
F – Watson 48 run (McCutchen kick) 0:58
L – Jay Hood 30 catch from Darius Robinson (Trevor Latham kick) 9:15
L -- Kadarius Wright 7-16, Cameron Meadows 1-9, Farrika Grier 2-7, Keendarius Truesdale 4-6, Will Jackson 1-(-2), Anttavis Foster 1-(-3), Quae Cureton 1-(-12), Darius Robinson 5-(-25). F -- Clarence Watson 7-75, Denzel Johnson 2-54, Donald Gist 8-33, Corey Riley 5-26, Carlton Andrews 6-12, Griffin Carrouth 2-10, Brendan Greene 5-(-7).
L -- Darius Robinson 13-29-1-XX, Keendarius Truesdale 0-1-0-0. F -- Brendan Greene 8-13-0-X.
L -- Jay Hood 7-72, Cordarious Tinsley 4-30, Drae Linton 1-18, Mandrico Martinez 1-10, Keendarius Truesdale 1-5. F -- Denzel Johnson 6-100, Lowndes Pope 1-29, Corey Riley 1-6.