The belief that the power in SCISA football resides in Columbia this season will be put to the test when the independent big-school playoffs begin on Friday when Heathwood Hall (10-0), three-time defending champion Hammond (9-1) and Ben Lippen (9-2) start on the road toward the finals at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium in Orangeburg on Nov. 20.
The biggest surprise of the bunch has to be Heathwood Hall, which was in no way considered a threat to go 10-0 during the regular season. Even in the summer the HH coaching staff was concerned about depth issues when scanning its small varsity roster. The Highlanders, however, have somehow avoided major injuries, especially to indispensable players like quarterback Mac Whalen, linebacker/running back Walker Sojourner and linebacker/receiver Morgan Whalen.
It’s the story of the year, so far.
Hammond, meanwhile, remains in solid position to win a fourth straight championship, despite starting the season with a lineup heavy on youth and very short on varsity experience. The Skyhawks still know how to win – escaping upset bids by lowly Orangeburg Prep early in the season and Ben Lippen in Region 1-3A play. The luck ran out in the region championship showdown vs. Heathwood Hall.
Ben Lippen, no doubt, wanted to make a regular-season statement this fall, but region setbacks to the two heavies should provide ample playoff motivation to the Falcons, who made it to the semifinals last season.
Let the fun begin.
Porter-Gaud (5-5) at Heathwood Hall (10-0)
Game notes: The Cyclones, under first-year coach Rick Reetz, has been in the habit of making the long drive to Columbia for the first round of the playoffs. The results at Hammond the past two seasons have not been pleasing … The Cyclones are balanced offensively with backs George Campsen and Galen Givens-Rowlins taking care of the ground game and quarterback Hudson Worthy, a sophomore, and receiver Stanton Seckinger headlining the passing game … Defensively, the Cyclones have been pretty solid in every outing save a 45-7 loss to Hammond in Week 5 … P-G, in fact, gave HH a real go in the first week of the season before fall 14-9. The Highlanders shut down the Cyclones running game in the opener – allowing a net of minus-2 yards … Mac Whalen started the season as a running machine, but has cranked up the passing game in the last half of the season, as well. Whalen had no touchdown passes through the first five games of the season, but burned Augusta Christian with four scoring tosses in a Week 6 win. For the season, the Player of the Year candidate is 133-for-245 passing for 1,787 yards and 11 TDs to go along with 989 yards and 13 scores by land … The top receivers include Morgan Whalen (37-567-2), Benji Stern (36-369-1) and, of late, freshman Will Dubose (25-231-2) and fleet Joseph English (24-541-6) … The defense hinges on the aggressive play of Sojourner (132 tackles, 9 sacks), Morgan Whalen (92 tackles, 4 sacks), Will Cloyd (108 tackles), Davis Verbrick (4 sacks), Chris Barton (6 interceptions) and English (4 interceptions).
Pinewood Prep (4-6) at Hammond (9-1)
Game notes: The Panthers from Summerville have been a major disappointment this season, but injuries to key players like bullish running back Moses Richardson have been a factor … With Richardson healthy and do-it-all senior quarterback/defensive back Bruce Haynes in the pink, the young Skyhawks can’t take anything for granted … Hammond expelled Pinewood from the playoffs in the semifinals at Edens Stadium last season … The Skyhawks have had injuries woes, as well – especially in the backfield where top two runners Les Cotter and B.J. Bennett have missed considerable time. Both, however, are ready to go in the playoffs. Last week, Bennett ran for 144 yards and two touchdowns in a 39-7 win over Augusta Christian … The balanced Hammond attack features Bennett (718 yards, 6 TDs) and Cotter (466 yards, 2 TDs) by land and a potent passing game featuring junior quarterback Dave Nidiffer (123-for-190, 1,779 yards, 28 TDs) and veteran receiver Aaron Walters (48-959-14) … The talented offensive line makes in all work. The key men are center Roo Daniels and tackles Malachi Ware and Kris Simmons … Hammond is averaging 365.4 yards per game on the attacks – 167.7 rushing, 197.7 passing … The defense is allowing a meager 196.3 yards per game, and just 87.4 yards on the ground. The key operatives include Jordan Key (77 tackles, 6 TFL, 3 sacks), Weston Verner (64 tackles, 3 TFL, 3 sacks) and Joseph McDougal (61 tackles, 9 TFL, 6 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries).
Ben Lippen (9-4) at Laurence Manning (6-4)
Game notes: The host Swampcats can put some points on the boards with quarterback Josh Boykin, running backs Shane Green and Banks Lee leading the way. But the LMA defense is another story altogether … Ben Lippen has been under the radar since a heart-breaking loss to Hammond cost it a shot at securing at least a share of the region championship. The Falcons, however, are focused on reaching Orangeburg after falling one game short a year ago. A win this week sets up a potential rematch in the semifinals with long-time tormentor Heathwood Hall … Joey Carter is the man who makes BL go on offense. The senior quarterback is 143-for-277 passing for 2,328 yards and 16 touchdowns and also leads the team in rushing with 359 yards and 5 TDs. The deep receiving corps features Taylor Wilson (51-799-5), Ross Fleming (38-605-3) and deep threat Will Roseborough (29-536-3) … The Falcons defense, overall, has had a fine season to date. The unit leaders include Gabe Smith (90 tackles), Tuck Benefield (72 tackles), Zach Perry (62 tackles, 13 sacks, 12 TFL), Jonathan Nahlen (47 tackles, 7 sacks, 11 TFL), Jimmy Carlen (58 tackles, 4 sacks, 9 TFL) and Austin Irish (4 interceptions).