High school football state championship preview, by Tyler Cupp
Weekend of Champions Preview
One of my favorite weekends of the year. The time where teams finally play for a title and local legends are born. The South Carolina High School League’s Weekend of Champions takes on Friday. Due to the incoming inclement weather, the weekend has now become one full day of action in two locations. The 1A and 2A games still take place at Benedict at 5 and 8:00, while the 3A, 4A and 5A all get started at 1 p.m. over at Williams Brice the same day. Here is a quick preview, picks and capsule for each game on Friday.
1A State Championship
5pm Benedict College
LAMAR(12-1) VS GREEN-SEA FLOYDS
Lamar should be the favorite here. This is the fourth consecutive trip for Coach Corey Fountain and the Lamar Silver Foxes. They have stayed at the top of the rankings all year having only lost once, that coming to Gray Collegiate out of the Midlands. They lost their starting QB in that game, so the story has been Malik Johnson picking up the slack at tailback, kick return and defense. At the 1A and 2A levels, you gotta remember a majority of the kids are playing both ways, and that’s what makes these kids so talented and fun to watch. Outside of the loss to Gray, the Silver Foxes have only allowed more than 20 points one time, that coming in the first round of the playoffs to Williston-Elko.
As for Green-Sea Floyds, they might have one of the best stories of the year. It is incredible how they have persevered and overcome the devastation of Hurricane Florence from September. They did not play a game, much less practice for a month. But what’s even crazier, is that a portion of the kids to this day are not able to sleep in their own beds because of the damage the hurricane caused. The Trojans are coached by Donny Kiefer who has been somewhat of an unknown to the palmetto state, considering he came from North Carolina. He has been successful at all of his stops. When he left in April of 2017 he ranked 10th in North Carolina high school football history with 224 wins. He has done well at GSF as they have never even made it past the second round until this year. This will be their first appearance in the big one. The small town out Horry County is fired up for this one.
PICK: Even though GSF has one heck of a Cinderella story, I will go with Lamar. Might be just too much for the Trojans.
2A State Championship
8pm Benedict College
ABBEVILLE(13-0) VS BARNWELL(13-0)
Oh boy what a clash this is going to be. I personally think that this might be one of the best and tightly contested games of the weekend. While Abbeville is probably the favorite here, you can’t look past Barnwell at all. Both these teams being unbeaten make it all the more pressure packed. These programs have rich and prideful traditions. These teams have multiple players where their fathers and even grandfathers played at the same school. For the Warhorses, quarterback Craig Pender has quite the name to bare, seeing that his grandfather and uncle both played the same position and led their respective teams to the state title games. Look on the other side and Abbeville’s Jabryan Sanders’s father played on what is revered as the best Abbeville team in history back in 1996. Coaches on both staffs either played with the school themselves or helped coach the players’ fathers, uncles and cousins. Small towns will obviously give you lineage like that.
I was also interested to learn that Barnwell coach Dwayne Garrick is an former assistant at South Carolina State under Willie Jeffries. He is part of a group that includes former and current high school coaches like Reggie Kennedy, Walt Wilson, and J.W Montgomery. Garrick is no stranger to the state title game. He took Williston-Elko there three consecutive times from 2008-2010 winning in that last trip. As for the Warhorses, they have lost in the lower state final the previous two years before breaking through this year defeating Carvers Bay to punch their ticket.
The Panthers are going for their fourth straight championship. I saw them two weeks ago and they are as impressive as any team I have seen this season. They have speed on speed. The “A-Bone” offense is a must see for any football fan.
PICK: I will go with Abbeville. They were really battle tested in the post season and I think they have the slight edge on experienced players and coaching in this spot.
3A STATE TITLE
4pm Williams Brice Stadium
DILLON(12-0) VS CHESTER(14-0)
Hall of Fame coach Jackie Hayes has made a habit leading his teams to the title games in December. Hayes recently eclipsed over 300 career wins last season, putting him among the elite in SCHSL competition. He has won five titles in six years with Dillon. Whereas Chester is making its first appearance here since going back-to-back in the 07 and 08 seasons. Current coach Victor Floyd was the head coach back in 07, left for a short time (coached in Georgia) and is now back to finish what he started and avenge that loss some 10+ years ago. The Cyclones are 13-0 for the first time in the 100 year history of the program. Floyd’s coaching roots have a Midlands connection. His first head coaching job was at CA Johnson in the mid 90’s.
One thing is for sure: Chester is huge. At the SCHSL presser, they had some big kids on display, including Mr.Football candidate Wyatt Tunall. Still, I am not sure Chester has seen a defense like Dillon all season. The Wildcats have posted four shutouts, while holding four other opponents to seven points or less. The Cyclones’ defense is no slouch either, giving up an average of 13.7 points per game.
But this will be Dillon’s state championship to lose. They are in the midst of one of the more underrated legacies in the history of South Carolina High School Football. I think sometimes we take it for granted because it’s at the lower levels but make no mistake about it, some of these Dillon teams could compete with the big boys. This will be the seventh straight trip for Dillon and reading up on this team, it seems this squad is quite special.
PICK: Dillon is the pick. Chester can sometimes get in bad penalty situations. Even if it’s a fairly clean game, I still lean toward the Wildcats to take care of business.
4A STATE TITLE
1pm Williams Brice Stadium
GREER (13-1) VS MYRTLE BEACH (11-1)
The Seahawks of Myrtle Beach feature 2020 University of South Carolina commit Luke Doty. Their Lower State championship win over Hartsville was the first time anyone had defeated the Red Foxes in Kellytown since 2011. The win also avenged an earlier 70- 34 loss in mid season clash between the two teams. Doty compiled over 500 yards of total offense on the night to go along with seven touchdowns in a 52-31 win. Coach Mickey Wilson is one of the better coaches in the state and he leads a MB team with a ton of tradition. They have seven state titles to their credit, last winning in 2014. Wilson has two state titles as a head coach, also taking the crown in 2010.
It has been 15 years since the Yellow Jackets of Greer played for a state title. The program was a power when it was down in 3A winning four championships. This is a very experienced group that returns a good bit of players from last year’s squad, that lost in the upper-state championship. Runningback Dre Williams will be one to watch. The Shrine Bowler has 2300 yards and 31 touchdowns, with three additional scores coming on receptions. But he is also deadly in the return game where he has five more touchdowns. I think this game certainly comes down to the defense. Greer has to stop Doty, and MB has to slow down Williams. If not, we could have quite the shootout in Willy-B.
PICK: The hardest pick of the bunch. I like both teams a lot. Is it Doty’s time? Or is Greer destined? If it becomes a shootout, I will go MB, but if its a lower scoring game, I will take Greer. This might be the best game of the weekend.
5A STATE TITLE
7:30 Williams Brice Stadium
DUTCH FORK (12-0) VS TL HANNAH (14-0)
This is what you have been waiting for. The main event. Both teams going for history. After winning 400 games as a head coach, Tom Knotts and the Dutch Fork Silver Foxes are going for their third title in a row. It’s the fifth time they have appeared in the game in since 2012-2013. Those other trips included two losses (13′, 15′) and a win (14′). You have seen the ridiculous numbers by now I’m sure. They have scored over 700 points averaging 50 per contest and have only given up 112 total all year. They are No.16 in the USA Today’s Super 25. But here is my favorite stat: they have only trailed once. That was two weeks ago, for less than a minute against West Ashley. The usually confident and outspoken Tom Knotts had some very interesting comments regarding his opponent this week. He certainly respects TL Hannah and the year they have had. But more so, he is weary of that Wing-T style offense. It’s an offense that DF has not seen all year really.
Some more numbers at a glance:
Junior QB Ty Olenchuk has passed for 3,509 yards with 39 touchdowns. Wide receivers Gage Zirke and Jalin Hyatt have amassed over 2700 yards together. They also have running back Ron Hoff, who has rushed for 1,042 yards.
TL Hannah is a cool story. It’s been 44 years since they have competed for a state title. They have kind of had an uprising the last few years and have made a lot of rumblings as a new power in the Upstate. Well, they are here to prove their worth. Led by the state’s number one prospect in Zacch Pickens, the Yellow Jackets use him on both sides of the ball. He runs it out that Wing-T at tailback, and he is a force on the outside playing defensive end. That is quite rare in 5A classification to have a player be that versatile playing both sides like that. The last player that I can think of that played on the D-line and also running back at this high of a classification was Jadaveon Clowney. He turned out pretty good, don’t you think? Pickens has over 800 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns But this Wing-T can also pass it. In just 34 completions, they have 12 touchdowns and 700 yards. TL Hannah will obviously try to limit the touches, and possessions of the Silver Foxes. That will be key. But they themselves will have to stay out of third and long.
The Yellow Jackets are coming off one of the most impressive wins of the post season. Trailing 13-0 to Byrnes early, TL Hannah reeled off 57 points to come back and win. Additionally, I am not sure if it’s a changing of the guard, but TL Hannah has knocked off other traditional powers like Northwestern and Dorman to get to this point. The last state title trip for TL Hannah was 1974.
PICK: Dutch Fork. But I think TL Hannah can keep it close early there in the first half. The key will be if TL Hannah can stretch the field and pass a little bit. They have to prove they are two-dimensional early. DF is just too strong, however. And what’s scary, is that so many players from this campaign are back in 2019.
You can watch/stream the games LIVE on the NFHSNetwork. The 1A and 2A games are both exclusively on that.
For the games at Williams Brice, they can be found on 57.2 digital locally, while the 7:30 game with DF and TL Hannah can be found in the Columbia area on WACH FOX 57.