THE HAMMOND Skyhawks and the Byrnes Rebels have displayed dominance in their respective divisions of football in South Carolina.
This week, the two schools will put their championship belts on the line against challengers from outside the state. The opponents are the strongest competition that either will face all season.
1. CHARLOTTE CHRISTIAN AT HAMMOND
Hammond, which has flexed its muscles in dominating the SCISA football world for several years, will take on a talented team from an area where private school football is much more competitive than here.
Impact of game: For pride, this is huge. Hammond competed in the Charlotte school league from 1994 through 1996 and learned it was tough trying to compete with those giant schools. This game will give them an indication of how far they have come.
Players to watch: Hammond quarterback Jake Nidiffer and running back Quayshon Myers are the leaders of the Hammond offense. Charlotte Christian boasts UNC commitment Desmond Lawrence at wide receiver and defensive back. Junior Bo Hines, who plays both ways, and junior tight end Jeb Blazavich are attractive prospects.
Key matchup: Hammond’s defense against the Charlotte Christian offense. Hammond will need to stop Lawrence and Blazavich from making big plays. Myers’ success on the ground could be key.
2. BYRNES AT OSCAR SMITH (Va.)
The Rebels, defending 4A Division I champions of South Carolina, will travel to take on the defending state champions of Virginia, Oscar Smith Tigers.
Impact of game: The game will be a great measuring stick to see where Byrnes compares this season to nationally ranked competition. Each team is ranked in the Rivals.com Top 20, with Byrnes at No. 7 and Oscar Smith at No. 19.
Players to watch: You can catch this game on ESPN on Saturday at 6 p.m.. Byrnes junior quarterback Shuler Bentley is rapidly rising in the SCVarsity quarterback rankings, at No. 2 for the 2014 class. One of the most explosive players for the Rebels is wide receiver Akia Booker, who leads an impressive fleet of receivers. Oscar Smith will showcase first-year starting quarterback Dashawn Blow, who last weekthrew for 170 yards in beating Phoebus (Hampton, Va.), another Virginia powerhouse.
Key matchup: I would have to say that the key matchup is the Byrnes offense against the Oscar Smith defense. The Tigers are solid in the defensive front and at linebacker. They played Phoebus, a Virginia powerhouse, in a game-like scrimmage last week and shut them out. The Rebels’ wide receiver group is strong, so it will be a good test for each.
OTHER BIG TICKETS
Dutch Fork at St Xavier (Ky.): The Foxes take their show on the road to Kentucky to take on St. Xavier, which played in the Kentucky quarterfinals in 2011.
Ridge View at Lexington: The big question here is can a gimpy, banged-up Lexington offense move the ball on a solid Blazer defense?
Northwestern at Conway: No. 2 Northwestern takes on a tough Conway team that boasts a good QB/WR combination on offense.
Woodruff at Abbeville: Powerhouse matchup of Top 10 teams from 3A and 2A. A win by Abbeville would not necessarily be considered an upset.
Baxter’s Blitz, which appears in The State on Mondays and Thursdays, is written by Jim Baxter, the owner of scvarsity.com. Read his previous columns on midlandspreps.com