Lou Bezjak

2016 high school football season filled with memorable moments

The Midlands and the state were stunned with the death of River Bluff sophomore defensive lineman Lewis Simpkins on Aug. 10.
The Midlands and the state were stunned with the death of River Bluff sophomore defensive lineman Lewis Simpkins on Aug. 10. gmelendez@thestate.com

With the high school football season officially done, here’s a look back at some of the top moments from the Midlands:

Simpkins death

The Midlands was stunned with the death of River Bluff sophomore defensive lineman Lewis Simpkins on Aug. 10.

Simpkins died after collapsing at practice. Coroners ruled Simpkins’ death was caused because of fatal arrhythmia secondary to a pre-existing heart condition.

River Bluff won its only game of the season 10 days after Simpkins’ death, in an emotional 24-21, victory over Chapin. The game provided one of the most emotional moments of the year as both teams walked arm-and-arm next to each other as they entered the field.

River Bluff’s defense used 10 players on the field for the first play in Simpkins’ honor.

Weather woes

It started in Week 0 when several games were moved to Saturday because of heavy rains.

In October, Hurricane Matthew brought devastation to many areas in the state and forced the South Carolina High School League to extend its season by two weeks, and state championships weren’t held until Dec. 16-17.

Dutch Fork’s unbeaten season

Dutch Fork began the season with questions at quarterback, running back and was switching to the 3-4 defense.

By the end of the season, the Silver Foxes had all the answers and completed their first unbeaten season in school history with a 28-21 win over Boiling Springs in the Class 5A championship.

Batesburg-Leesville’s surprising run

The Panthers won four road playoff games in making it to their 15th state title game before losing to Abbeville.

Ben Lippen captures state title

Expectations were high for Ben Lippen and it lived up to them. The Falcons won their first SCISA 3A state championship with a 27-21 overtime victory over Porter-Gaud.

The title ended Hammond’s run of two consecutive titles. Ben Lippen defeated Hammond twice during the season and stopped the Skyhawks’ 27-game winning streak.

Fairfield Central’s record night

Fairfield Central shattered several school records in its 70-55 win over Camden. The Griffins rushed for 785 yards and had 873 yards of total offense. Tony Ruff finished with 392 yards, while Rod Edmonds added 292 yards and the pair combined for six touchdowns.

Strickland sets milestone

Newberry coach Phil Strickland became the sixth high school coach to win 300 games, all in South Carolina, when the Bulldogs defeated Keenan in the season opener.

Strickland’s squad came one victory away from making it to its third consecutive title game before losing to eventual state champion Chapman. He ended his season by coaching South Carolina in the Shrine Bowl.

Sackmaster Staley

Ridge View defensive end Damani Staley backed up his record-breaking junior season with an even better senior campaign.

The South Carolina commit broke his own school record with 28 sacks to go along with 110 tackles. Staley also was named to the Shrine Bowl.

Breakout teams

Brookland-Cayce – The Bearcats won a school record 12 games, its first region title since 2003 and advanced to the Class 3A Lower State championship game before losing to Dillon.

Gilbert – The Indians enjoyed the Midlands’ biggest turnaround in Chad Leaphart’s first season. Gilbert started 8-0 and won 10 games for the first time in 25 seasons. The Indians advanced to the second round of the playoffs before losing to Timberland.

Ridge View – The Blazers won 10 games for the first time since 2006 and made it to the third round of the playoffs before losing to South Aiken. Ridge View had two players selected to the Shrine Bowl and two to the North-South game for the first time in school history.

White Knoll – With an experienced group of seniors, the Timberwolves doubled their school’s playoff win total with a pair of postseason victories, making it to the third round of the playoffs before losing to Dutch Fork.

Breakout players

Reese Nichols, Dutch Fork – In his first year as a starter, Nichols made up for not playing football his junior season as the Silver Foxes’ quarterback amassed nearly 4,000 yards of total offense and accounted for 38 touchdowns.

Amir Abrams, Newberry – The Bulldogs’ running back followed his 1,000-yard season as a junior by rushing for almost 2,500 yards and accounting for 38 TDs. He rushed for more than 1,000 yards in playoffs.

Catriez Cook, Gilbert – The senior made the switch to offense and was a big reason for the Indians’ turnaround. He finished with 1,781 yards and 27 touchdowns.

Xavion Gordon, Chapin – The junior transferred from Dutch Fork and had 1,147 yards receiving and 21 TDs.

Bryce Thompson, Ben Lippen – The junior had to sit out last season, but made up for it as the Virginia Tech commit had more than 1,600 yards of total offense and 21 TDs, including the game-winner in overtime in the state championship game.

Channing Tindall, Spring Valley – The junior linebacker had 144 tackles.

Tyreek Tolen, Batesburg-Leesville – The running back replaced the school’s all-time leading rusher, Terrence Wilson, and ran for nearly 2,000 yards in the Panthers’ march to the state title game.

The State’s All-Midlands football team will be released Jan. 8 along with players and coach of the year.