Cardinal Newman is resurging
Under coach Brannon Tidwell, the Cardinal Newman Cardinals keep raising the bar for their program. This season, led by backs Evan DuBois and Zakki Parker, the Cardinals finished 6-5, their first winning season since 1998.
The Cardinals returned to the playoffs for a second consecutive season, and narrowly missed their first playoff win in decades, falling 30-27 to Laurence Manning in the first round. Tidwell’s success has grown interest in the program, and the Cardinals look to be stronger next season.
You can never count Irmo out
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Although plagued by turnovers and a permissive defense early in the season, the Irmo Yellow Jackets completed a turnaround. They started with four consecutive losses, but that tough non-region schedule helped the Yellow Jackets prepare for their 4-1 region run. Their 42-41 comeback victory against Dutch Fork served as a reminder how treacherous the Yellow Jackets could be.
Although Irmo’s season ended in the first round of the Class 4A Division 2 playoffs, with a loss to South Pointe, the Yellow Jackets always had the chance to make a playoff run.
Dutch Fork’s Matt Colburn can’t be stopped
Compared to the players who have tried to tackle him, Silver Fox running back Matt Colburn is slight. But at 180 pounds, the Dutch Fork junior helped carry the Silver Foxes to the program’s first Class 4A Division 1 championship with 35 and 36 carries per game in the final two playoff games. Through the season, Colburn broke tackles left and right, and rumbled to an average 176 yards per game, finishing with 2,289 yards for the season.
Colburn has one more season at Dutch Fork, and he is looking forward running away with that, too.
Spring Valley is on the right track
Coach Miles Aldridge wrapped his fourth season at Spring Valley with the Vikings finishing 12-1 in the second round of the state tournament. Aldridge has turned around a program that had a combined three wins in the three seasons prior to his arrival. The Vikings have had more wins each season, but this year’s unbeaten streak will be hard to top. Aldridge’s winning formula emphasizes hard work and playing to his athletes’ strengths. While the Vikings lose several key players from this year’s squad, that formula will remain key to continued success.
Hammond is always a contender
Hammond has been a fixture in the SCISA Class 3A championships for nearly a decade, largely because of the acumen of its coaches. Led by coach Erik Kimrey, the Skyhawks’ staff puts its athletes in position to excel — even the young players and those new to the program. That’s why they are able to fill in ranks and return each season without losing much ground. Their steadfast approach drove them to finishing as state runner-ups for the second consecutive year. And after this year’s 10-4 finish, the Skyhawks have to be considered a top contender for next year’s title.
Stepp is at home at Lexington
In his self-proclaimed dream job, Lexington’s Josh Stepp piloted the Wildcats to a 10-3 finish — wrapping the season at Byrnes in the second round of the Class 4A Division 1 tournament. There were few hiccups in the season for Stepp and his Wildcats. The season included a six-win streak and big wins against North Augusta, Aiken and rival White Knoll. The Wildcats worked their way to a three-way tie for the Region 5 title. Though Lexington is losing key players, Stepp has earned the confidence of his team, and he and the Wildcats look to have a bright future.
Westwood is getting it together
In the second season of its program’s existence, Westwood earned its first winning season, and its first playoff bid.
The Redhawks improved from 1-9 in their first year to 6-5 in the 2013 regular season, earning second place in the region.
They notched the school’s first postseason victory against Woodruff, and suffered their first playoff loss at the hands of Greer to finish 7-6.
The Redhawks have given their program a strong start, and might not be scheduled as many opponents’ homecoming games in the years to come.
A.C. Flora persevered
The Falcons, who enjoyed a successful three-year stretch under coach Dean Howell, underwent a lot of changes heading into this season. Losing several skill players and much of the front line of its offense, new coach Reggie Shaw knew his team would have challenges. Though they struggled through an 0-3 start, the Falcons continued to fight, and their season started to turn around when they defeated Columbia in Week 4.
The Falcons worked their way into a playoff spot. They finished 4-7, a result that is not indicative of their effort, with five of their losses by a touchdown or less.
Dr. Brown was the remedy for Batesburg-Leesville’s ills
Jerry Brown was an icon before he came out of retirement to help the Panthers’ ailing program. Batesburg-Leesville was 1-10 the season before Brown arrived, and he got the program back on its feet, with a 5-9 record, in his first season.
This year, the discipline-oriented Brown and his my-way-or-no-way approach cured the Panthers’ ailing defense and formulated a winning game plan on offense. Brown’s tack led the Panthers to bring home Batesburg-Leesville’s first state championship since 2008, with a 28-24 win against Silver Bluff in the Class 2A Division 1 title game.
Fairfield Central can keep coming back
The Griffins are an indomitable program never far from the top of their region, and under coach Demetrius Davis they are taking things to the next level. Fairfield Central responded to its 2012 runner-up finish by working overtime to earn another chance at the title.
This year, they powered through an undefeated regular season with stout defense, and an offense led by quarterback DeAndre Belton. Though they could not find the answer to Dillon’s offense in the Class 2A Division 1 title game, the Griffins proved their shortcomings serve only to drive them to work harder. They could be playing in late November again next year.
Akilah Imani Nelson