High School Sports

Dillon, Central stay the course

Class 2A title contenders much the same as when the last met

The more things stay the same the more things ... change?

Central football coach Joey Mangum hopes that is true as his Eagles prepare to face Dillon in Saturday's Class 2A championship at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Dillon notched its first 2A title last season with a 7-6 victory against the Eagles at Clemson's Memorial Stadium.

Not much has changed for the Eagles leading up to the rematch, Mangum said. Yet it is not a foregone conclusion that this year's result will mimic last year's.

"We know, for us, it's going to be another low-scoring game," Mangum said. "But, then I don't think you have to just score a lot of points to beat the other team."

"There's certain things that we do well and you're kidding yourself if you try to do things differently, do things that you don't do well, thinking it will be more successful," Mangum said.

For Central, that means sticking with the running game, Mangum said, even as he lauded the efforts of first-year quarterback Jewan Henderson. Henderson's 44 completions for 929 yards and 17 touchdowns are no small feat, Mangum said.

Mardu Smith is the Eagles' primary rusher, with 177 carries and 1,176 yards, but Central can fill its backfield with Jerel Blakeney and Radford Robinson. That trio has combined for 20 touchdowns and 2,300 yards.

Still, the team that was held to 37 yards of rushing offense in last year's final is hoping renewed commitment to the run will pay off big this time.

Meanwhile, Mangum is counting on a defense with 11 first-year starters to limit a Dillon offense that has outscored opponents 29-7 in the postseason. The rebuilt defense has improved throughout the season, and is as strong entering the championship as last year's unit, Mangum said.

To defensive lineman Kegan Funderburk's understanding, changing the outcome of this year's game is not a matter of changing schemes or game plans.

"We just have to do what we did last year, only do it better this time," said Funderburk, a 6-foot-2, 254-pounder who doubles as a wide receiver. He said the key to victory for Central this year is more speed off the line, more power on blocks and more energy in the game.

On the opposing sideline, Jackie Hayes said his team's approach to the championship has been much the same as last year, too.

"We just tried to do the same thing we did last year, tried to get better each week and we did that," Hayes said.

"It's all pretty much the same as last year for both teams," he said. "Both teams have the same philosophy as last year, and when you're successful with that, you don't really want to change much."

If the Wildcats have changed anything, it is their attitude, Hayes said.

"A lot of our people really grew up since we won that championship," said Wildcats receiver Antuawn Blue. "It was hard work, but we made it back because of that. And we hope that will help us win again this year."

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