DUNCAN - The names are new and not nearly as decorated as their predecessors, but Byrnes still will end this season in familiar territory.
The Rebels whipped Lexington 31-7 Friday for their 70th consecutive victory at Nixon Field to force a rematch of last year’s 4A state championship, in which they will hope to gain revenge against defending champion Dorman.
The Rebels began the year 2-2 and underwent some uncustomary close calls against opponents they were used to crushing before winning eight of their last nine, including three playoff games by a combined 106-35.
"We’re the same old Byrnes, not the new Byrnes; the same old one," first-year starting quarterback Zach Blair said.
Byrnes coach Chris Miller acknowledged he made it a point to create an us-against-the-world mentality with so many outsiders predicting the most successful South Carolina team of the past decade was finally ripe for the picking.
"We have a bunch of no-name guys," Miller said. "All the big names are gone, and these guys, nobody knew who they were, and they had to prove themselves. They had to put their brick in the foundation of this program, and they did that tonight."
The Rebels served immediate notice to Lexington that not only was beating the hosts on their home turf going to be a tall order, but that this was a talented team playing with a chip on its shoulder. They held Lexington star runner/receiver Shaq Roland to 12 rushing yards and two catches for 48 yards, with 44 yards coming on one catch
Byrnes certainly looked like previous versions on its first play from scrimmage as Blair connected with a wide-open Trey Barron down the left sideline for a 57-yard touchdown and quick lead. Meanwhile, the Rebels forced Lexington into three-and-out on its first three possessions.
Blair tossed two touchdown passes, including a 19-yard laser to Greg McHam on third-and-9 early in the second quarter for a 14-0 advantage.
A senior who finally took over the arguably the most widely acclaimed position in S.C. prep football, Blair was as stoked as anybody about his team’s march to the final.
"So many doubters, not only toward me, but for a lot of us," Blair said. "Only a few of us even played last year, and we were able to step up and show we can still play football here. It means a whole lot to prove that stuff and show that to others that we can make a difference."
The outcome was in doubt when Lexington recovered a fumble on Byrnes’ 41, but turned it over on downs as the Rebels defense continued to play lights out. That set the stage for the game’s biggest swing when Byrnes receiver Craig Weick fumbled away a 76-yard reception into the end zone that Lexington recovered.
Two plays later, sophomore Shane Samuels returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown for a 21-7 Byrnes lead. Two possessions later, senior defensive end Darrion Scott added a 10-yard interception return, and the celebration was under way.
"I didn’t even try to catch it, I was just trying to knock it down," Scott said. "It stuck on my hands, so I took off. That was the longest 10 yards of my life and felt like slow motion."
With the kind of excitement and momentum swings they caused, the defensive touchdowns, Miller thought, felt like they worth more than six points.
"The momentum was on their side, so we had to do something about it, and Shane comes up with the big play, and that just changed the whole complexion of the game," Miller said.
And now Byrnes goes back to play for the big one.
"I told them this is where it all started (this season)," Miller said. "We started our ‘Breakfast of Champions’ right here on (Nixon Field) at 5:30 in the morning; nobody was out here and it was pitch black dark. They went through all kinds of stuff they had to go through to get back to where we are right now."