One of the strengths of Phil Strickland teams at Newberry has been their running games, and it’s no different this year.
Newberry has one of the top rushing attacks in the Midlands, which is one of the reasons the Bulldogs are in their third straight upper state championship game. The Bulldogs host Chapman with the winner headed to next week’s Class 3A state title game.
"We can mix it up a little with the pass when we need to, but we are going to dance with the lady that brought us," Strickland said .
Strickland has a strong dance partner in running back Amir Abrams. The junior leads the Midlands with 2,228 yards and 34 total TDs. In the playoffs, Abrams has rushed for almost 800 yards, including 350 yards and five first-half touchdowns in last week’s win over Palmetto.
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"He is not a blazer but he does what he needs to do and fights for that extra yard," Strickland said. "He sees the hole when there isn’t one there and he finds it and refuses to go down on first contact. He is a good, quality, high school running back."
Strickland said college interest is picking up for the 5-foot-9, 187-pound back and should continue next season if he puts up similar numbers.
Newberry isn’t the only Midlands team in the playoffs with a go-to running back. Tyreek Tolen leads Batesburg-Leesville’s running attack, and Dutch Fork freshman Ron Hoff has been one of the area’s biggest surprises. Both have rushed for more than 1,500 yards and have excelled in the postseason.
Tolen, who replaced B-L’s all-time leading rusher Terrence Wilson, rushed for a career-best 296 yards and four touchdowns in last week’s win over Bamberg-Ehrhardt. He has 570 yards and eight TDs in the playoffs.
"If you are going to win late in year you got to run the ball," Batesburg-Leesville coach Perry Woolbright said. "There were big shoes to fill when Terrence graduated. We have a lot of depth in backfield, but Tyreek has kind of taken over. He is a big workhorse and stronger runner."
Throwing the ball has been a staple of Tom Knotts’ offense at Dutch Fork but the Silver Foxes also can get it done on the ground with Hoff. The freshman wasn’t on the team’s radar at the beginning of the season but worked his way into the starting lineup after a strong showing during the preseason.
Hoff has rushed for 1,584 yards and 25 touchdowns this season. He’s rushed for more than 100 yards in seven of his last eight games and had 98 yards in the other game.
"Ron has been a pleasant surprise as a ninth grader," Knotts said. "He has great vision, great balance and great burst. He does things the right way."
Brookland-Cayce and Chapin don’t have the 1,000-yard rushers but have guys getting it done on the ground.
B-C’s Rasheed Taylor is a punishing back and centerpiece when the team goes into its “war” package, which includes lining up Shrine Bowl defensive tackle Tay Pringle as one of the lead blockers.
Taylor has seven of his 16 touchdowns in the playoffs.
"He has played really well for us," B-C coach Rusty Charpia said. "He looks like a man but has a child’s heart and is the most respectful, kindest man I have been around. On the field, he is a brute."
Chapin relies more on the pass than any of the other Midlands playoff teams. Cooper Bemis and Trad Beatty have combined for more than 3,000 yards passing and have also shown the ability to run. But the Eagles have found a go-to back late in season with Mark Shealy. The junior has rushed for 199 yards and three scores in the postseason.
"Mark has come a long way and he has been a true factor in the playoffs and last seven or eight games," Chapin coach Justin Gentry said. "We incorporate our running backs and receivers in our running game. We don’t have an overabundance of running backs but we are blessed with ones we have."
Carrying the mail
A look at the top running backs for the five Midlands teams left in playoffs:
2016 season: 2,228 yards and 34 TDs
Playoffs: 779 yards and 12 total TDs
2016 season: 1,657 yards and 15 TDs
Playoffs: 570 yards and 8 TDs
2016 season: 1,584 yards and 25 TDs
Playoffs: 379 yards and 7 TDs
2016 season: 881 yards and 16 TDs
Playoffs: 177 yards
last week; 7 TDs in playoffs.
2016 season: 659 yards and 4 TDs
Playoffs: 199 yards and 3 TDs
SCHSL Football Playoffs
All Games at
7:30 p.m., Friday
Spartanburg at Boiling Springs
Fort Dorchester at Dutch Fork
South Aiken at South Pointe
Hartsville at Chapin
Chapman at Newberry
Dillon at Brookland-Cayce
Abbeville at Saluda
Batesburg- Leesville at Barnwell
McBee at Lamar
Hemingway at Lake View