The Hammond team that squares off against Wilson Hall in the SCISA Class 3A championship game on Saturday at Charlie W. Johnson Stadium is not the same squad that started the season 2-3 with three blowout losses against quality foes.
After hitting bottom in a 42-14 loss to Wilson Hall in Sumter on Sept. 20, the Skyhawks have won eight straight, including a come-from-behind 28-26 semifinal win last week at Orangeburg Prep, to advance to the SCISA final for the eighth consecutive season.
Hammond won six consecutive titles (2006-11) before the title streak came to an end last year against Augusta Christian.
“I have to give all the credit to the players for staying patient while the coaching staff made adjustments to change the way we were going to play on both sides of the ball,” coach Erik Kimrey said. “In the game of high school football, it truly is a case of how you are playing at the end of the season, not at the beginning. We realized a few games in that we were not the team on the field we thought we were going to be.”
Hammond started the season with inexperience. Injuries also factored into a midseason reboot that featured a complete change of philosophy on offense and defense.
Kimrey expected the offense to be pass-oriented with a little run-option mixed in. Junior quarterback Nick Garrett was the runner, and senior Davis King was a senior pocket-passing transfer from Westwood.
Garrett did not play in the first three games, two of which were shutout losses.
But once the junior became the primary quarterback and Kimrey ditched the idea of using junior T.J. Brady on defense, things began to click.
Hammond is averaging 420.4 yards total offense, 278.1 yards rushing and 37.6 points per game over the final eight contests.
Brady has 1,813 yards rushing and scored 180 points. Only Class 4A stars John Miller of Spring Valley and Matt Colburn of Dutch Fork have been more productive backs in the Midlands.
Brady ran for 145 yards and two touchdowns and caught four passes for 111 yards and another score in last week’s win against Orangeburg Prep, which beat Hammond 20-0 during the regular season.
Garrett, who missed the final game of the regular season and the playoff opener against Porter-Gaud, returned and produced 175 total yards and two touchdowns.
Kimrey utilizes King to good effect in obvious passing situations and as a change of pace.
The radical change on defense came in the wake of the lopsided loss to Wilson Hall. Defensive coordinator Craig Farnsworth, with Kimrey’s blessing, switched from the 4-3 alignment that has been a fixture since the start of Hammond’s glory days in 2006, to a more aggressive 3-4.
“The idea was to start bringing pressure and give our best football players opportunities to use their physical ability to make plays,” Kimrey said. “Making major changes like this is scary, especially in the middle of the season when it might just go all wrong, but the kids embraced what the coaches presented to them.”
The real test of how much the Skyhawks have improved since the alterations came against Orangeburg Prep. In the regular season, the Indians held Hammond to a season-low 140 offensive yards (5 rushing), while piling up 212 yards rushing (317 overall) against the Skyhawks’ defense.
In the rematch, Hammond produced 366 yards and cut OP’s production to 256 yards.
Now, the Skyhawks have the chance to the tables on Wilson Hall (12-0) in the biggest game of the season. The Barons are looking for their first SCISA title in 10 years.