Football might be the sport of choice in South Carolina, but basketball always has been at the top of the bill at Keenan High.
Why not? Keenan has produced 14 final-four boys hoops teams, including seven finalists and six state champions, since the school opened in 1970.
All too often, Raiders football has served as a diversion before the start of basketball season.
Change, however, has come to Keenan football this season. The Raiders, fresh from road wins in the first two rounds of the Class 2A Division II playoffs, are gearing up for a historic opportunity Friday at Bolden Stadium against visiting Ninety Six.
It is Keenan’s first final-four football game, and the Raiders have a chance to become the first team from the Richland One school district to advance to a championship game since 1991, when Lower Richland dropped a 28-27 decision to Laurens in the 4A Division II finale.
LR is the last district school to win a state championship (in 1970).
“It’s an unbelievable opportunity for us to continue to make history,” versatile senior star Ken Gathers said.
“We’ve never played this long into the season, and it’s a special thing. I don’t think any of us are thinking about basketball right now. We’re a band of brothers focused on one goal: to win a state championship.”
Keenan entered the new season coming off back-to-back 7-5 seasons and 1-1 playoff showings.
“This senior class has been together for four years, and over the summer we were determined to be ready to take the next step up,” Gathers said. “We knew we had a chance to be something special.”
The Raiders are one win from reaching their first championship game and from matching the all-time single-season win record established in 1992 under Buddy Pough, now the coach at South Carolina State. Keenan has produced a single-season scoring record with 409 points.
Gathers and junior quarterback DeMarco Zeigler have been key performers on offense.
Gathers, who led the state last season in interceptions, has become a game-breaker in the running game, in the passing game and on special teams. He has scored 16 touchdowns, 108 points in all, while amassing 1,839 all-purpose yards, and he continues to be a pick-six threat on defense.
The rise of Zeigler has allowed incumbent quarterback Deon Trevezant to concentrate his skills as cornerback on defense and contribute at receiver. Since taking over the job early in the season, Zeigler is 60-for-128 passing for 1,360 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“One of the big reasons for our success is the fact that we all accept our roles for the good of the team,” Gathers said.
The running game dominates the Keenan attack. The Raiders average 236 yards on the ground, 376 overall, per game. The go-to men are Tyrieck Davis-Newton (931 yards, 15 TDs) and Tiski Gray (660 yards, 11 TDs).
Gray ran for a career-high 192 yards and three scores in last week’s 60-39 win against Chesnee – the No. 1 seed in the Upper State bracket.