High School Sports

No. 1 Byrnes comes calling Thursday

Midlands football fans are in for a rare treat tonight, if they care to take advantage of the opportunity.

The mighty Byrnes Rebels have been a fixture in Columbia in early December at the Weekend of Champions in the early portion of the 21st Century, but they have never played a regular season game in the Midlands. That all changes tonight when the USA Today Super 25 No. 1 team in the land brings its traveling show to Blythewood Stadium to take on the Ridge View Blazers.

For the uninformed, here are just a few things to know about the program that has redefined the term “excellence” in South Carolina football:

Byrnes went 15-0 and won the Class 4A Division I football title, crushing Summerville in the finale at Williams-Brice Stadium, for the first time last season after claiming four straight Division II championships between 2002 and 2005. This after Bobby Bentley, the architect of the dynasty, opted out for a new challenge as the headman at Presbyterian College.

Since the start of the 2002 season, the Rebels have won 84 times in 88 games, enjoying three perfect, 15-0 campaigns along the way. The only South Carolina team that has managed to beat Byrnes during the span is Gaffney, under former Batesburg-Leesville coach Phil Strickland. Gaffney topped the Rebels once in 2004, and swept a two-game set in 2006, ending the Will Korn era on a sour note in the playoff quarterfinals.

The trademark of the Byrnes dynasty has been the mastery of the spread offense. Potent seems somehow to be an inadequate word to describe the Rebels capacity for scoring points. The bottom line is Byrnes has scored 3,739 points over the last 88 games for an average yield of 42.49 points a game over the course of five-plus seasons. Those numbers underscore Gaffney’s achievements vs. Byrnes. The Rebels never scored more than 15 points in any of the three losses to the Indians; they managed all of 38 points combined.

The Rebels defense, strong and very fast (if not physically big), gets little attention, but the unit has allowed an average of just 13.42 points a game during the same span.

OK, the Rebels bring some serious credentials and come in after rallying to beat North Gwinnett (Ga.) 36-21 last week at the Progressive Football Challenge in Suwanee, Ga. Byrnes pulled away with a 20-0 burst in the third quarter. It all began with an interception return for a touchdown by Justin Bright, followed by a four-play, 70-yard scoring drive that was strictly the work of junior running back Marcus Lattimore (179 yards rushing two TDs).

Lattimore ran for a single-season school record of 1,836 yards last season, caught 42 passes and scored a total of 30 touchdowns. That’s just for starters. Junior quarterback Chas Dodd went 227-for-409 for 3,202 yards and 32 TDs in his first season as Korn’s successor. Receivers Ricco Sanders and Nick Jones both return after both caught 58 passes last season. Jamie Dunaway had 37 knockdowns and 16 pancakes up front last year. On defense, seven starters return, including safety Bright who has committed to Florida State.

This is the kind of talent that is lining up against Ridge View tonight. The Blazers, as they say, have nothing to lose.