State Title Chases Get Under Way

Kameron Riley (6) takes a Jordyn Adams pass and fights off a tackle at White Knoll on Oct. 21. (Photo/Jason Arthur)

Kameron Riley (6) takes a Jordyn Adams pass and fights off a tackle at White Knoll on Oct. 21. (Photo/Jason Arthur)

BLYTHEWOOD/FAIRFIELD (Nov. 17, 2016) – It seems like ages since the Friday night lights blared over the Midlands, and indeed it has been weeks. The schedule shakeup caused by Hurricane Matthew last month disrupted regular season play, but at last the chase for state titles is on.

Friday night, the Blythewood Bengals travel to South Florence to face the Bruins in round one of the Class 5A playoffs, while the Fairfield Central Griffins host Woodruff’s Wolverines in the opening round of the Class 3A tournament.

Blythewood at S. Florence

The Bengals are the three seed coming out of Region V with a record of 7-3 overall, 4-2 in the region. They have averaged 30 points per game this season, while their defense has given up an average of 20.5 points per game.

The Bruins, the three seed from Region VI, sport a 5-5 overall record, 2-3 in the region. Their offense, propelled by junior quarterback Austin Moore, averaged 34.3 points per game this season while the defense, led by senior middle linebacker Darrell Brown, gave up an average of 28.8 points per game.

Moore threw for 1,464 yards through the first 10 games, completing 135 of his 265 tosses. He has 16 touchdowns, but a dozen interceptions to go with them.

“They’re an air-raid team. They can put points on the board, and they played in a region where a lot of teams scored a lot of points,” Bengals head coach Dan Morgan said. “We want to put pressure on him (Moore) quickly and try to make him make decisions a little bit faster than he’s comfortable doing. Hopefully, we may be able to get a pick-6 here or there. Those kind of things can win a game for you.”

The Bengals will also have to double-down to protect their gunslinger, Jordyn Adams, from Brown and the S. Florence defense. The Bruins sacked opposing quarterbacks 35 times in 2016, with Brown taking down 13.

Adams has thrown for 2,080 yards thus far, completing 103 of his 188 passes. He has 21 touchdowns with only 6 interceptions.

“We want to make sure we’re going quick-game to keep them off balance,” Morgan said. “We want to throw the screens, throw to the edge and make their defensive line run around as much as we can. Their defensive line is their strong suit on defense. They’re big and they’re strong.”

Adams has connected with Kenny Benton 35 times this year for 700 yards and six scores. Kameron Riley has 24 catches for 536 yards and eight TDs, while Roger Carter has 18 nabs for 351 yards and three scores.

The Bengals haven’t seen action since their 40-33 loss to Spring Valley on Oct. 28, and Morgan is concerned that the extended time off could hurt his team’s chances.

“I worry about tempo and timing,” Morgan said, “and when the game gets physical, do our kids still remember how to be physical? We’ve had really good practices through this, but we can’t simulate a game.”

Woodruff at Fairfield Central

The Griffins, meanwhile, last saw the playing field on Nov. 4, a madcap 70-55 win at Camden. Although the Griffins pulled out the victory, Camden’s passing game shredded Fairfield Central’s injury plagued secondary for 336 yards and seven TDs.

Woodruff, according to Griffins head coach Demetrius Davis, brings a similar threat into E.K. McLendon Stadium Friday.

“They’re very similar to Camden – that lets you know why I’m concerned,” Davis said. “But at this stage, in the playoffs, every week you’re going to play someone good, whether you play them this Friday or a week or two from now, eventually you’re going to have to play them.”

The Griffins’ secondary has been hampered since junior defensive back Kimoni Harris went out with a broken collar bone against Chester on Oct. 21, and it took another blow in the Camden game when senior DB Rodric Woodard went down with an ankle injury. Davis said they are now working with a patchwork of untested rookies.

“We’ve got a brand new defense secondary,” Davis said. “We’ve got some ninth-graders in there and some guys who were playing on Thursday night a few weeks ago (JV). It’s a brand new secondary. I’ll let you know after the game how we’re doing back there.”

No stats were available for the Wolverines, but their 3-2 region record (6-4 overall) was good enough for the fourth spot out of 3A Region III. They averaged 30.9 points per game, while giving up an average of 24.6 points per game. Their 32-24 loss to region foe Clinton on Nov. 4 sent them into a three-way tie with Chapman and Clinton behind Newberry, with head-to-head competition dropping them to fourth.

“They’re a good football team,” Davis said. “Just a couple of weeks ago they were up in the top two teams in 3A. They had some games that didn’t quite go their way, and their region is one of the toughest in 3A. They ended up with a three-way tie and the tie-breaker put them in fourth place. Of all the number one teams in 3A, I think we got the toughest draw.”

The Griffins are the Region IV champs, with an 8-2 overall record and an unblemished 4-0 region record. Their run-heavy offense averaged 34.1 points per game while their miserly defense gave up only 18.4 points per game.

Sophomore Rodriguez Edmonds leads the running attack with 754 yards on 91 carries. He crossed the goal line 11 times in the regular season. Junior Tony Ruff is right on his heels with 703 yards and seven TDs on 67 carries. Quarterback Stanley McManus, a senior, has carried the ball 105 times for 464 hard yards and 11 TDs.

The Griffins will still be without senior running back Jerrell Suber-O’Neal, who rushed the ball 77 times in seven games for 299 yards and three TDs.

McManus has thrown for 1,045 yards, completing 74 of 131 passes. He has eight touchdown strikes and only six interceptions to his credit.

The Griffins defense, apart from the anomalous Camden game, has been sound all season. Indeed, the 55 points given up to Camden still kept their average points surrendered per game below 20.

Senior linebacker Daryl Camack leads the squad with 66 solo tackles and 31 assists. Kedar Jennings, another senior linebacker, has 38 solos and 36 assists. He also leads the team in sacks with 5.5.

The Final Word

To advance, both the Griffins and the Bengals are going to have to be in top form.

“It’s a challenge because we’ve got to go on the road and we don’t know them (S. Florence) as well as other teams in the Midlands,” Morgan said. “Their defense is pretty tough, but I feel like we’ve played tougher defenses this year.

“The biggest thing we’ve got to do is take care of the football,” Morgan added. “In the playoffs, teams that make mistakes are usually the teams that go home. We still want to be aggressive and make plays, but we don’t want to make mistakes.”

“We have to limit their (Woodruff’s) big plays,” Davis said. “They’re going to score points – they’re a good football team. The question will be, can we win at least two phases of the game – offense, special teams – and make them earn it. On offense, we have to execute and take care of the football.

“We only have to win by one point. If they score 100, I’m looking to score 101.”