With their defeat of defending state champion Byrnes in the second round of the Class 4A Division 1 playoffs, the Gaffney Indians reasserted themselves as a South Carolina football powerhouse.
Not that the Indians have been far from the top. Gaffney reached the title game in 2011 for the first time in five seasons.
On Saturday, for the ninth time in 21 seasons, Gaffney looks to add to its state-best collection of championship trophies — the count stands at 15 — when it faces Dutch Fork at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Though Gaffney did not veer far off its course, the Indians started their 2012 campaign a middling 3-3 after losing two huge offensive playmakers — quarterback Joey Copeland and Shrine Bowl receiver Quinshad Davis.
“Certainly, on offense when you lose a Parade All-American receiver … you’re missing a big part of your offense,” coach Dan Jones said. “We knew that defensively we had seven of those guys coming back and actually we had eight or nine that had played, and we were going to have to rely on them early.”
They took a trouncing from Northwestern — a Division 2 title contender — in the season opener.
“You get more critical as a coach after a loss so after we lost the third game, there were some changes that we felt needed to be made in the offensive line, quarterback and receiver. We had some personnel changes that we made,” Jones said.
The Indians moved Shaquille Davidson from wide receiver to quarterback, to get the ball in one of their best athletes’ hands on every play. Joseph Leach moved from defense to fortify the offensive line, a sacrifice Jones said helped the Indians prioritize team goals over personal achievement.
Still, the onus was on the defense to hold the squad steady through its offensive growing pains.
“We knew we had to pick it up,” said senior defensive lineman Jaylen Miller.
“Losing Quinshad, losing Joey, that just meant it let defense realize we had to take it on our shoulders until the offense could get successful,” Miller said.
Jones knew there would be a point when the team would have to turn the corner, and at 3-3 they reached it.
“Whether we had (the talent) to make it to this point, we knew we were better than where we were,” Jones said.
“When you live in Gaffney, the expectations are high so when they walked out in the community and they were 3-3, the coaches didn’t have to say a lot because the barber was going to say something, the meat market guy, whoever else they bumped into was going to say, ’Hey guys let’s keep it going.’
“The community does a lot as far as motivating the kids to be successful,” he said.
Now the Indians enter the championship game on an eight-game winning streak, averaging 29.7 points, and 353.4 yards, and their dependable defense continues to hold opponents back.
Though their road to the final started out rocky, the Indians have come a long way to prove the winning tradition is alive and well in Gaffney.