If Brookland-Cayce is nervous from being a win away from its first state title appearance in 50 years, you couldn’t tell at practice.
Music was playing and the Bearcats were in good spirits heading into Friday’s Class 3A Lower State championship against Dillon. B-C’s looking for its first state title trip since winning in 1966.
“We are playing with house money. We are 12-1, won a region championship, have the winningest season in Brookland-Cayce history,” B-C coach Rusty Charpia said. “We have nothing to fear. They are the ones with the pressure on them. We are playing loose.”
Dillon’s in its ninth consecutive semifinal appearance and in pursuit of state-record fifth consecutive championship. The Wildcats have won 49 of their past 50 games, with their lone loss against Mallard Creek (N.C.), 7-3, in the season opener.
“We have opportunity to play one of the greatest football programs in the state of South Carolina. They’ve got exactly what I wished we had,” Charpia said of Dillon. “They’ve got it from top to bottom. We just are fortunate to be playing them and have the opportunity to be playing them in our stadium. … Our work is cut out for us. We hope we are around in the fourth quarter with a chance.”
Brookland-Cayce’s one of five Midlands teams remaining in the postseason, along with Chapin, Dutch Fork, Newberry and Batesburg-Leesville. It’s the second time in the past three years five area teams have made it to state semifinals.
Like B-C, Chapin hasn’t had much recent postseason success. The Eagles are making their first semifinal appearance since 1987 and haven’t played for a state title since 1974.
“It’s long overdue so we are excited to be right here on Friday night,” Chapin coach Justin Gentry said. “This community is a special place and there has been a lot of good coaches come through here. These guys are building on what has gone on in the past.”
But the other three Midlands teams in the playoffs have had a lot of postseason success.
Batesburg-Leesville has the richest tradition. The Panthers are making their 22nd state semifinal appearance and have won seven state championships.
That tradition is something that drew coach Perry Woolbright back to the Midlands after rebuilding North Myrtle Beach into a contender.
“Tradition means a lot. The school and community expect to be at this point. Might not get there every year, but this is what our kids expect, to be playing late in the postseason,” Woolbright said. “You want to build tradition to get to playoffs. They got tradition here, and we are striving to maintain it each year.”
Dutch Fork (13-0) has been the area’s most dominant program since Tom Knotts took over in 2010. The Silver Foxes are in their fourth state semifinal appearance in the past five years and have been to three state championships.
“Our goal wasn’t to beat Irmo or the local teams. Our goal is to win a state championship and be in the hunt every year for the state championship,” Knotts said. “We feel like we are in the hunt every year. This year has been a special year. We haven’t played that well all the time. Our defense has played better than our offense, but we have made plays when we need to.”
The Silver Foxes will have their hands full with Fort Dorchester, a team they beat 35-22 on Sept. 1. The Patriots have quarterback Dakereon Joyner, a South Carolina and Clemson target. Joyner has completed 64.3 percent of his passes and thrown for 42 TDs and rushed for 11 more.
“He seems to be on top of everything. He knows where to scramble and when to scramble to throw it. When he pulls down and breaks the pocket, he is pretty good at that too,” Knotts said of Joyner. “We got our work cut out for us against him.”
Newberry’s making its third consecutive state semifinal appearance and fourth in the past five years under coach Phil Strickland. The Bulldogs lost 32 seniors from last year’s state runner-up squad.
“No one gave us much of a chance this year. I’m just real proud of these men for as hard as they worked, believing in themselves,” Strickland said. “The good thing about this group is I like how we have grown and gotten better and better.“
Midlands Final Five
A look at the postseason history of the five Midlands teams remaining in the playoffs:
Coach: Tom Knotts
State semifinal appearances: 7
Last state semifinal appearance: 2014
State championship appearances: 3
State championships: 1 (2013)
Coach: Justin Gentry
State semifinal appearances: 5
Last state semifinal appearance: 1985
State championship appearances: 2
State championships: 2 (1973, 1974)
Coach: Rusty Charpia
State semifinal appearances: 4
Last state semifinal appearance: 1987
State championship appearances: 1
State championships: 1 (1966)
Coach: Phil Strickland
State semifinal appearances: 9
Last state semifinal appearance: 2015
State championship appearances: 3
State championships: 0
Coach: Perry Woolbright
State semifinal appearances: 22
Last state semifinal appearance: 2013
State championship appearances: 14
State championships: 7 (2013, 2005, 1999, 1995, 1979, 1928, 1927)