Lou Bezjak

Dutch Fork, Batesburg-Leesville take different journeys to title games

Dutch Fork and Batesburg-Leesville are the remaining teams from the Midlands playing for football state championships, but took different paths to get there.

After entering the season with question marks, Dutch Fork was at the top of the Class 5A rankings for much of the year. The Silver Foxes had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and turned in their best performance of the season in Friday’s 49-24 win over Fort Dorchester for the Lower State championship.

Dutch Fork didn’t punt, racked up 563 yards of offense and averaged 10.4 yards per play.

For the season, Dutch Fork is averaging 40.2 points a game, and 13 of 14 victories have been by 10 points or more. The Silver Foxes’ defense has allowed as many as 28 points in a game once this season.

“All year, I was telling them they were a 5-5 team. All of a sudden, we found Ron (Hoff) and the offensive line started playing better and (quarterback) Reese (Nichols) started to understand. And our defense really started to buy in what coach Pelham is doing,” Dutch Fork coach Tom Knotts said.

Batesburg-Leesville is the only No. 4 seed to make it to the Weekend of Champions. The Panthers finished the regular season with two must-have wins, and had to win all four playoff games on the road, including against region foes Bamberg-Ehrhardt and then Barnwell in the 2A Lower State title game.

Against Barnwell, Batesburg-Leesville trailed 14-0 and was down 17-12 with 7:44 left, but Tyreek Tolen had the game-winning TD less than 30 seconds later.

“We really grew from the last time we played (Barnwell) here, and our kids learned to fight through adversity,” Batesburg-Leesville coach Perry Woolbright said after the game. “... We’ve gone on the road for four weeks now, we’ve played four great teams and come out on top.”

Championship notes

Some of the other story lines headed into championship week:

▪  Dillon is going for a state record fifth consecutive championship after a 34-21 win over Brookland-Cayce. The Wildcats, who are 50-1 in that span, trailed at halftime in each of the past two games.

▪  Boiling Springs, Dutch Fork’s opponent in the 5A title game, is making its first state championship appearance. The Bulldogs stopped a 2-point conversion attempt in double overtime for a 14-13 win over Spartanburg.

“About 15 years ago, we played seven homecoming games in one year,” Boiling Springs coach Rick Tate told the Spartanburg Herald Journal. “We went from there, and now we are playing for a state championship. This is for everyone. This is for the coaches who coached here before me, and the players who played here before this group.”

▪  Both Lamar and Lake View enter the Class A title game with 13-0 records. Lamar is looking for its second championship in a row, while the Wild Gators are going for their 10th.

▪  South Pointe rallied from two 14-point deficits to defeat South Aiken 55-49 in double overtime to advance to the 4A championship game. The Stallions are looking for a third consecutive championship, and will play Hartsville in the final game for the second time in three years.

Finishing strong

Newberry running back Amir Abrams finished his season strong despite the Bulldogs’ loss to Chapman on Friday.

Abrams rushed for 257 yards and four TDs, his third consecutive game of more than 200 yards. During the playoffs, he rushed for 1,036 yards and 16 TDs. For the year, he finished unofficially with 2,485 yards rushing and 38 total TDs.

Shrine Bowl additions

Westwood offensive lineman Ryan Hiller and Airport assistant coach Jimmy Kinard were added to the Shrine Bowl roster.

Hiller, a Charleston Southern commit, replaces Dutch Fork’s Malik Sumter. Sumter and teammate Austin Connor won’t be playing in the game because of the Silver Foxes playing in the state championship. Kinard replaces Lake View’s Daryl King, whose team will play Lamar for the state title Friday.

In all, 12 players on the South Carolina roster had to be replaced because of championship conflict or injuries. Other replacements added: Omari Johnson (Stratford), Davieon McDaniel (Sumter), Zach McIntosh (Daniel), Ben Reeder (JL Mann), Sheldon Billings (Georgetown), Cody Campbell (South Aiken), Adonicas Sanders (Fort Dorchester) and Ty Washington (Union County).

Previously announced replacements were Tyreek Johnson (Lakewood), Alex Stennett (Nation Ford) and Kirk Rygol (Nation Ford).