Here’s a look at the 5A football semi-final games.
I’ll start by looking at the upper state championship game between Gaffney (13-0) and Spartanburg (9-3). Gaffney knocked off Northwestern 16-13 in overtime, while Spartanburg held off Ridge View 32-29.
The Vikings moved on to round 4 of the playoffs behind an impressive performance from quarterback Raheim Jeter and running back Drek Carter. The two star offensive players made big play after big play, especially late in the game when the Vikings trailed and had their backs against the wall. Carter scored twice in the second half and the defense came up with a stop on the final possession to seal the victory.
Gaffney also had to come from behind as they trailed Northwestern 10-0 for much of the game. But the Indians’ defense has been stellar all season, and they turned in what may have been their best performance of the year against an explosive Trojans offense that came in averaging over 40 points per game. They were able to contain quarterback Will Mattison and were able to force a couple turnovers in the second half. Gaffney then took advantage of their opportunities and were able to tie the game to force overtime, eventually coming away with the win on a Tyler Smith rushing touchdown, his 30th of the season.
I don’t think there are enough adjectives to describe how excited I am for this Friday’s match up. Gaffney has arguably the best defense in the state, while Spartanburg has been one of the best offenses in South Carolina over the last two months. Raheim Jeter and Tiheem Richardson have been an electric combination for the Vikings in the passing game, while Gaffney boasts a pair of 1,000 yard rushers in Tyler Smith and Ken Littlejohn. It’ll be two teams with different styles as Gaffney wants to run it down your throat and play physical defense, whereas the Vikings have a balanced offensive approach and use their speed on defense to disrupt the opponent’s offensive attack.
The keys to this game are fairly obvious. Spartanburg will need to slow down the Indians’ rushing attack, which averages around 250 yards per game, and Gaffney will need to limit the big plays from a Spartanburg offense which can score from anywhere on the field. I think the Vikings will load the box and force Gaffney quarterback Grayson Loftis to make some plays in the passing game. It’s much easier said than done as every other team has had the same game plan against the Indians, and yet they remain undefeated. Northwestern had some luck rushing the passer last week and if the Vikings can force Gaffney into third and long situations maybe they can have success with that as well. Gaffney meanwhile will need to use their speed at the linebacker position to keep Drek Carter from getting to the edge in the run game. Carter was able to use his quickness on the outside last week, leading to some big runs in the second half. Gaffney will need to eliminate those if they want to slow down the Vikings offense.
This game is very evenly matched. It might come down to which team plays more under control. I imagine both teams will come out with a ton of energy and emotion, so whichever team can keep from making mistakes (penalties and turnovers) will be in a good position to come away with the win. Spartanburg is probably better suited to come from behind, but Gaffney has overcome second half deficits on multiple occasions this year as well. I don’t know who will win this game, but I hope it comes down to a final possession, with Spartanburg’s offense needing a score against that stout Gaffney defense. This game could very well be one we will talk about for years to come.
The lower state game should be great as well, featuring a pair of undefeated teams in Dutch Fork and Fort Dorchester. Dutch Fork advanced with a 49-21 win over Sumter, while Fort Dorchester knocked off Lexington 30-8.
Both these teams have been cruising all season long. Dutch Fork is loaded with division 1 talent at nearly every position. They have dominated the competition this season winning by an average margin of 55-10. The Silver Foxes have won every game by at least 28 points but could face their toughest test so far against Fort Dorchester. The Patriots have also been great this year winning by an average margin of 23 points.
This game will feature possibly the two best teams in the state. The Patriots will do their best to slow down the Silver Foxes potent offense, which comes in averaging 282 yards per game on the ground. Dutch Fork has been able to impose their will on opponents all season long and I project they will be able to do the same this Friday.
The Patriots are a great team, but they will need to force some turnovers and possibly catch a few breaks as well. Quarterback Davin Patterson for Dutch Fork hasn’t been asked to do much in the second half of games, but this one has a chance to be close late. Dutch Fork running back Jarvis Green will get plenty of touches in this game, and he can be electric with over 1,700 yards from scrimmage and 34 total touchdowns on the year. I think the Patriots will focus on shutting him down and forcing Patterson to beat them through the air. This will be difficult, but I think Fort Dorchester will do a decent job of this on Friday. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will be enough to get the win. The Silver Foxes are too talented and too deep on both sides of the ball, and I think they will come out on top and advance to their sixth straight 5A title game.