Griffins in for a Dogfight in Round 3

Last year it was Damien Bell (9) who put the Bulldogs away in the Upper State title game. Can the Griffins end Newberry’s playoff hopes two years running?

WINNSBORO – When the Newberry Bulldogs last came into Fairfield County, they gave the Griffins a genuine dogfight, as the two high school football titans stood toe to toe for four quarters, exchanging blows like heavyweights, vying for the Upper State title and a shot at the championship a week later. Four quarters was not enough back in 2012, as Damien Bell scored from 4-yards out with 3:59 left in the game to tie the slugfest at 21 and force extra time. Bell drove the dagger in, scoring from 1 yard out on the Griffins’ first possession of the Kansas City Shootout and the Fairfield defense made it stick for the 28-21 thriller.

Tonight (Nov. 22), the Dogs get a chance at revenge as the #6 seeded canines return to E.K. McLendon Stadium for round three of the Class 2A, D1 state playoffs.

Newberry (3-2/9-3) has handily dispatched its first two opponents in the tournament, putting away #11 Carolina 36-14 in round one and disposing of #3 Pendleton on the road last week 21-9.

“The seedings in the 2A playoffs, I don’t even look at them,” Griffins head coach Demetrius Davis said, “because they rotate them by region every year. Newberry is one of the best teams in the whole deal.”

Newberry’s formula for success is not too dissimilar from what the Griffins have done en route to their 11-0 record – run, run some more, run again, then pass if the defense is giving it to you. The Dogs run a two-back power offense behind an offensive line that is the biggest the Griffins will have seen all year – 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4 and 350 pounds – with tight ends to back it up, towering at 6-foot-4.

The Bulldogs finished third in Region II behind Jerry Brown’s region champs Batesburg-Leesville and the second place squad out of Ninety-Six. Newberry has racked up 358 total points riding their two-back attack, averaging nearly 30 points per game. Only once, however, have they rolled over 50 points in a single game (62 over Berea on Sept. 13) and only twice have they scored 40 or more (62 over Berea and 40 at Clinton on Sept. 6). Newberry came out of the gate hot in 2013, rattling off consecutive wins over Ware Shoals (28-0), Clinton (40-28), Berea (62-20) and 3A Region IV champs Chapin (35-7). The Dogs were caught off guard at Union County on Sept. 27, taking their first loss of the season 35-17. They then entered region play with back-to-back wins over Saluda (31-13) and Abbeville (21-0) before dropping a pair of region matches to Ninety-Six (31-17) and Batesburg-Leesville (39-17). They closed out region play with a 31-7 drubbing of Mid-Carolina.

“They had some turnovers against Batesburg-Leesville, and the Panthers got some late scores,” Davis said, “and Union caught them on a bad night, but they beat Chapin and Chapin was a 3A region champion.”

The Bulldog defense has given up 203 total points this season, for an average of 16.91 per game. They’ve dealt two shutouts and five times have held opponents to 10 points or less.

The Griffins, meanwhile, enjoyed a week of rehab in round one and knocked off Keenan last week 26-0, in spite of some lackluster offensive play. Against a slate of admittedly inferior opponents, the Griffins have rolled up 427 total points so far this season, but their last two outings – Nov. 1 at North Central (19-0) and last week in their rematch with Keenan (26-0) – were their two lowest point totals of the year.

But Davis said the offense has had a strong week of practice, and the sluggishness of the Keenan performance appears to be cured.

“We didn’t execute (last week),” Davis said. “We talk a lot about finishing, but we got down there (in the red zone) and didn’t finish. We fumbled the ball on the 2, we got stopped on a fourth-and-goal at the 1, we had a touchdown called back on a phantom holding call. But I think (last week’s showing) was a blessing in disguise, because it gave us a chance to reevaluate ourselves.”

When the Griffins offense is clicking, it hums like a piston engine. Quarterback DeAndre Belton has thrown for 1,416 yards on the season, hitting 85 of 148 attempts. While he has tossed six picks, he has twice that amount in touchdowns. He has also rushed for 620 yards on 83 carries with seven trips into the end zone. On the receiving end, Kewaun Squirewell, who was a non-factor last week, leads the team with 407 yards on 23 catches with four TDs. Tyren White has an additional 304 yards on 16 receptions with a pair of scores.

The Griffins’ two horses – senior Larry G. Bell and junior Joseph “Mighty Joe” Young – have consumed 799 and 726 yards, respectively; Bell on 138 totes and Young on 98. Both have seen the end zone 15 times.

The Griffins defense, which was a question mark for Davis at the beginning of the year, has been the linchpin for their dominance. The Fairfield crushers have given up a total of 97 points this year, for an astonishing average of 8.81 points per game. Four times they have made opponents strangers to the scoreboard and have held their foes to 10 points or less seven times.

“The defense is going to be the tale of the tape,” Davis said. “If we’re going to be successful, we’ve got to play well on defense.”

While Kalil Keitt is leading the team in sacks with 16.5, Delvin Simmons is right on his heels with 16. Senior linebacker Larry J. Bell is leading the Griffins in total tackles with 72, while his junior colleague, Dustin Padgett, has 57, just ahead of Keitt’s 50. And North-South All Star Compton Walker, who was last week’s defensive, offensive and special teams’ player of the game, could be a game-breaker once again.

“I expect pretty much the same kind of game as last year,” Davis said, “a four-quarter, overtime nail-biter. Unless we’re not careful and they come down here and just beat the daylights out of us.”