For Dutch Fork, the confidence gained in a strong semifinal win at Byrnes is wind at its back heading into the Class 4A Division I title game against Sumter on Saturday.
“We know that we can play with anybody,” coach Tom Knotts said.
Coming off a state runner-up season, the Silver Foxes entered the 2013 season with high expectations. As their performance went up and down through the season, so did the Silver Foxes’ confidence.
“It was a tough season,” Knotts said. “When you’ve got such lofty, high expectations and you don’t meet your expectations, your confidence suffers. Players and coaches start to question themselves.”
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Entering the playoffs with a 10-3 record after a loss to North Augusta, the Silver Foxes were happy for a clean slate in the postseason. Their three-point victory against previously undefeated Spring Valley was a confidence boost. The matchup with Byrnes was something of a kingmaker.
“They are one of the best teams, and we didn’t really know if we had a chance,” junior linebacker Mick Lusk said. “We were just ready to play them and see how it went.”
Knotts told his team the Rebels were the best team in the state and, in pursuit of their second consecutive title-game berth, the Silver Foxes were going to have to beat them.
“We watched film, and we felt like we had a chance,” Knotts said.
“You can’t beat Byrnes every time, but we could beat them once. And the team really bought that philosophy,” he said. “We went on that field Friday night thinking that we were going to win.”
With a defense that kept the Rebels from establishing a running game, shut out Byrnes in the fourth quarter and held the Rebels to 21 points — their lowest scoring output of the season — Dutch Fork accomplished its mission.
“We had nothing to lose, so we just went out there and played like we knew we could play,” leading tackler Lane Ecton said. “It definitely gives you confidence but we can’t let that get to our heads, because we have one more team to play.”
Knotts tempered the excitement with a healthy dose of reality.
“I guess I’m a pretty critical coach, so in our Sunday meeting, I didn’t show them the highlights. I basically showed them the lowlights, the improvements we need to make,” Knotts said.
“He rarely ever shows the good things that we do; he doesn’t want us to get the big head,” said Ecton, who has 129 tackles and four sacks.
Ecton said the team, especially the defense, is peaking.
“Right now, I think we’re the best we’ve been this season,” said Lusk, the team’s second-leading tackler. “It’s good because they say we have a lot of things we could improve and we can do that against Sumter.”
Knotts said his team has yet to play a great game, and he is doing everything he can to make Saturday’s championship performance the Silver Foxes’ best of the season.
Although the Silver Foxes (13-3) have already beaten “the best,” they need one more win to prove they are the best.