When the draw was announced for the Class 4A Division I football playoffs, it took a moment for the Dutch Fork Silver Foxes to get excited about the road they faced.
But Dutch Fork coach Tom Knotts said the team realized that facing the likes of then-undefeated Spring Valley and Byrnes would be best.
“It was hard to see past those two teams,” said Knotts, whose team advanced to the semifinals with last week’s 31-28 victory against Spring Valley.
Up next for Dutch Fork (11-3) is Byrnes in Friday’s semifinal.
“We love practicing on Thanksgiving,” he said. “It’s just a real special time of the year. It’s always my favorite time of year.”
The Silver Foxes had a lot to be thankful for this season, despite three losses. They had quarterback Derek Olenchuk’s accurate passing, a talented receiving corps led by seniors Deion Frasier and Danny Juergensen and the hard-nosed running game from Matt Colburn. And there was the strong defensive front, with all-star Omar Staley leading the way, and Lane Ecton holding down the defensive backfield.
“I’ve been so proud of this group,” Knotts said. “They’ve done of everything that (we) have asked. It’s been hard to see that not show up in Friday night’s results.”
In the regular season, the Silver Foxes were “kind of an unlucky team,” he said. “Every team makes mistakes, but I’ve never coached a team whose mistakes were so magnified. It seemed like every mistake we made cost us. Our mistakes killed us.”
So with a loss to North Augusta in the Region 4 finale, the Silver Foxes limped into the playoffs and saw their fortunes shift.
A first-round win against Fort Dorchester at home got Dutch Fork going.
“Then we beat a great team at Spring Valley, and it’s a great boost of confidence,” the coach said.
Now the 2012 state finalists are one game away from returning to Williams-Brice Stadium.
“For us, this is like a state championship game,” Knotts said. “We’re just glad that we get to play Byrnes. To be the best you’ve got to beat the best, and they’re the best team in the state.”
The Silver Foxes have been working hard all season, Knotts said, but the matchup with Byrnes has given them renewed vigor.
“We can’t beat Byrnes every time, but we can beat them once,” he said.