On Thanksgiving, sports fans in the Spartanburg area should give thanks for the level of high school football being played in the area.
County rivals Spartanburg, Dorman and Byrnes, along with longtime region foe Gaffney, are the last four teams standing in the 4A Division I playoffs.
"I know one thing," Dorman coach Dave Gusthall said, "people in Spartanburg County ought to be able to find a good football game without going too far."
Dorman (12-1) will play host to Gaffney (10-3) at 7:30 p.m. Friday, while two-time defending state champion Byrnes (12-1) will entertain Spartanburg (5-8).
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It will be the first time four Spartanburg-area schools have been in the 4A Division I semifinals since the classification's inception in 1981. And it will mark the first time since 1994 that two area schools have played for the 4A Division I state title.
Spartanburg beat Dorman, 24-17, for the 1994 crown.
Spartanburg, Dorman and Gaffney all made the state semifinals in 1999, when Stratford won the title. Byrnes, which has won six state titles in seven years, moved from 4A Division II to Division I in 2006.
The last time both 4A Division I semifinals were played in Spartanburg County was in 2001, when Rock Hill visited Spartanburg and Northwestern traveled to Dorman. Spartanburg defeated Northwestern 24-21 that year in the state title game.
"We've always felt like this area played the best football," Gutshall said. "But now three from one county and Gaffney right next to us? That says loads. It's certainly a lot to be proud of."
"It's pretty exciting," said Gaffney coach Phil Strickland, whose teams won state championships in 2005 and 2006. "It's a testament to the brand of football played up here."
Byrnes schedules out-of-state games against some of the best teams in the country but often finds its stiffest competition in its backyard.
"I just know the level of competition we face in our region each and every year," Byrnes coach Chris Miller said. "I know how tough it was this year. It speaks greatly for the football played in the Upstate and very strongly for our region. Of course, Gaffney was always in the region, too. I think about what the programs mean to the area."
Spartanburg went 1-4 in Region II-4A, losing to Dorman, Byrnes, Boiling Springs and Mauldin. The Vikings have defeated postseason high seeds Rock Hill and Sumter on the road in the first two rounds.
"I laugh every time I look at the state rankings," Spartanburg coach Freddie Brown said. "Spartanburg is not in it and from time to time others are not in it. That tickles me. If you don't think Spartanburg, Gaffney, Dorman and Byrnes should all be in the top 10 in the state, you are fooling yourself. You've got to know better if you've been around here."
Miller said the coaches at the start of the playoffs examined the bracket and filled in the blanks with the same predictions.
"We talked about the possibility of it being a final four of region guys," Miller said. "I figured it would come out something like this."