Putting together — and executing — a defensive game plan to effectively counter Dutch Fork’s potent offense has been a challenge for the Silver Foxes’ foes this season.
Playoff-tested Gaffney gets the final test today at Williams-Brice Stadium in the Class 4A Division I state championship game.
It is the 14th championship game appearance for the Indians since 1981. Dutch Fork, on the other hand, has earned its first title shot in its third season under coach Tom Knotts, who won seven state championships in North Carolina.
The challenge facing Gaffney is simple: stop the Silver Foxes’ running game. Dutch Fork’s lowest rushing outputs came in back-to-back losses to Dorman and Goose Creek in September. Those games produced the two lowest scoring totals of the season for the Silver Foxes — 21 points against Dorman, 17 against Goose Creek.
The only other team that has limited Dutch Fork to fewer than 30 points was White Knoll, which surrendered 28 points in both meetings — in Region 5 regular-season play and last week in the semifinals.
“Our defensive coaches came up with a good plan and the kids played very well in both games, but unless you can score some points you are in trouble because it is almost impossible to shut them down,” White Knoll coach Gordon Walters said.
“The problem every defense has against them is they not only have size and talent, they are really balanced offensively. They really do force you to defend the whole field. If you load up to stop the run, they can hurt you with the pass. But the best chance you have is to make them throw more than don’t want to throw.”
Goose Creek limited the Silver Foxes to a season-low 73 yards rushing in a 28-17 win.
“We knew the key for us was to win the battle up front and take them out of their comfort zone,” Gators coach Chuck Reedy said. “I hear Gaffney has a good defensive line, and that’s where it has to start. But you also have to have good coverage by the secondary. It takes a total defensive effort to have a chance to limit them offensively.”
Dutch Fork has been an offensive machine under Knotts, averaging 30.8 points per game in 2010, 36.4 points in 2011 and 41.0 points this season.
“They’re doing the same things they’ve been doing since Tom took over, but now they are doing it better and more consistently,” said Irmo’s Bob Hanna, whose Yellow Jackets have faced their archrivals five times over the past three seasons.
“I think the biggest difference is the offensive line. They are much more physical, and they gave us a lot of problems up front. The line isn’t exceptionally big, but they are football strong. Now they can run the ball down your throat until you prove you can stop them. And if you load up the box, they beat you with the pass. The diversity of the talent on offense is what makes them so tough.”
The Foxes are averaging 210.0 yards rushing and 265.6 yards passing per game.
It begins with six seniors up front — tackles Aaron Borden (6-foot-1, 280 pounds) and Preston Little (6-2, 257), guards Reid Elmore (6-2, 247) and Ian O’Leary (5-11, 251) and center Will Greene (6-0, 198). Utility man Joshua Kaufmann (5-10, 207) can play at guard or tight end.
“Those six guys have been together for three years now in basically the same positions and have steadily improved,” Knotts said. “They compliment each over very well. It may not be the most physically imposing (line) I’ve ever had, but they are strong as a unit because of their commitment to the weight room.”
The player who keeps it all in line is quarterback Derek Olenchuk, who has thrown for 3,332 yards and 16 touchdowns.
“He is smart and extremely competitive, and even though he is just a junior he is a great leader — the guy who the rest of the team listens to when he speaks,” Knotts said.
The running back situation is interesting. Sophomore Matt Colburn has been the talk of the state since taking over for injured senior Trey Gregg. In five games as the starter, Colburn has run for 1,178 yards and 20 touchdowns on 143 carries. Gregg, who has 979 yards and 21 touchdowns, is healthy and ready to go.
Knotts said both backs will play.
Olenchuk’s favorite target is senior Jordan Berry, who has taken his game to a higher level this season. The result: 122 catches for 1,940 yards and 11 touchdowns.