Upper State Recap
One thing nobody can deny is just how good of a job Mark Hodge does at building programs wherever he goes. When he came to Chapman back in 2012, Chapman had not even won 20 games in 5 years. They were a struggling program, not unlike Spartanburg from 2015-2020. He went on to win 2 state championships, play for 3 of them, and churn out some of the best offenses I have ever seen. To this day, Chapman is still reaping the fruits of the foundation and culture he built there. They’re still winning, still have explosive and talented offenses, and still have that brotherhood/family mindset.
In short, when Hodge was hired at Spartanburg in January 2020, there was very little doubt that he would do the same thing for the Vikings program.
In 2 years, he got Spartanburg over the “Boiling Springs hump” (6 straight losses to the Bulldogs before Hodge), beat Dorman, won the region championship, and made it to the upperstate title game. All ahead of schedule. So, in spite of the loss to Gaffney last night, I don’t honestly think Spartanburg fans can be (or are) too upset. All the things are in place for special things to happen in the years to come for Spartanburg Viking football.
Now that all that is off my mind, let’s talk about what happened last night.
The Indians came in undefeated with one of, if not the best defense in the state. They picked up an impressive 16-13 road win last week in overtime over a Northwestern team that is very similar to Spartanburg offensively.
Spartanburg has a dual threat QB that can sling it in Raheim Jeter, a workhorse tailback in Drek Carter, and good receivers like Andrew Dantin and Tiheem Richardson. Northwestern had a QB capable of making plays with his legs and arm in Will Mattison. They had their go-to star receiver in Elijah Caldwell. They had their good running back in Turbo Richard. They had weapons everywhere, and Spartanburg has weapons everywhere. That wasn’t a big advantage for Northwestern last week and it was likely not going to be a big advantage for Spartanburg.
Unlike Northwestern, Spartanburg did find a weakness to exploit in Gaffney’s defense. The Vikings really imposed their will on the Indians in the first half by using the middle of the field rather than trying to use the outside or run towards the edge like Northwestern. Raheim Jeter and Tiheem Richardson connected for several big plays across the middle of the field. The big issue the Vikings had was limiting big plays.
While Gaffney won this one convincingly, it really could have been ugly quick for the Vikings. Gaffney had 2 long TD runs by Tyler Smith taken off the board for penalties early on in the first quarter. One on a hold and one on an illegal shift. Instead, Spartanburg was able to get through the first quarter tied at 7. But even so, Tyler Smith was definitely a key difference maker in this game for Gaffney. He still accounted for 4 TDs, 3 rushing and 1 receiving. He surpassed the 1,500 rushing yard mark last night. He had long TD runs of 80 and 27 yards.
Gaffney also caught their share of breaks that kept them in the game. Yes, they dominated the 2nd half. But they had to battle their way back from being down 2 scores. Spartanburg had a shot to score before the half to go back up 10 points, but with about :30 left, Raheim Jeter tried to hit Tiheem Richardson across the middle of the field and underthrew him. It resulted in a pick in the endzone for a touchback. Gaffney was able to kneel it out to the half only down 3.
Gaffney got the ball to start the 2nd half. The Viking defense forced a 3 and out and again Spartanburg was able to move down the field with ease using the middle. They drove it to the Gaffney 29 before the drive stalled and they were forced to try a 46 yard fieldgoal to try and extend the lead to 27-21. But, John Love’s fieldgoal try fell about 5 yards short. Gaffney dropped the hammer from there.
The Indians answered with an 80 yard TD drive capped by a 3 yard TD run on a direct snap to Tyler Smith from the wildcat to take a 28-24 lead. They never looked back, scoring 28 unanswered before Spartanburg logged a garbage time TD to make it 56-31.
There was also some controversy. Up 49-24 at the time with 4:00 left in the game, Gaffney faced a 4th and 9 from the Spartanburg 23 yard line. The Vikings already had conceded defeat. Dan Jones and staff had decided to keep their starters in, and with Dutch Fork waiting in the wings, getting more reps is somewhat understandable. They decided on 4th and 9 in fieldgoal range, up 25, to not just go for it, but to take a shot. Loftis threw an absolute bullet to Sugar Jeffries, who almost didn’t seem like he was expecting the ball. He tipped it and hauled it in 1 handed for a TD to make it 56-24 after the PAT.
Whether or not that is a bad move, running up the score, “bush league”, unnecessary, bulletin board material, etc, I will leave entirely up to your opinion and won’t say my thoughts on it. But I do tip my cap to Gaffney for being gutsy and still giving it 100% even when the game was well out of hand. They will need that kind of “all gas no brakes” mentality to keep up with Dutch Fork in the state championship next week.
Congratulations to Spartanburg on an incredible season where they only lost 3 games (2 to Gaffney and 1 to Dutch Fork), won Region 2-5A, and made it all the way to the state semifinals, where in the end they were outplayed by a Gaffney team that was more talented and made adjustments in the 2nd half to flip the momentum and run away with it. As I said earlier, big things are on the horizon for Spartanburg football.
Congratulations are also in order for the undefeated upperstate champion Gaffney Indians. They are undefeated for a reason. This team was battle tested. They truly were the best team in the upstate in 5A. Best of luck to them in the state championship game as they take on Dutch Fork at Benedict College next Saturday.