Dutch Fork linebacker Taylor Wiggins called last season a slap in the face and a reality check.
For the first time in four years, the Silver Foxes missed out on playing for a state championship after losing to Dorman in the second round of the playoffs.
After beginning the year with question marks, Dutch Fork is back in the championship game and is a win away Saturday against Boiling Springs from its first undefeated season in school history.
“I felt all season this is where we need to be and we just pushed the guys to work,” Wiggins said.
Dutch Fork coach Tom Knotts wasn’t so sure earlier his team had what it took to make it this far. But Knotts admits maybe it was because he holds his teams to higher standards than most coaches. That high standard has helped him win eight state titles in North Carolina and another at Dutch Fork.
“We have set the standards high and they have reacted pretty well,” said Knotts, who is coaching in his 15th state title game. “This year is a little bit of a surprise. This is one of those years where we worked really hard and got better week to week. They don’t play as good as I think they can, but they always find a way to win.”
Knotts thought his team might have something special early in the season after it won 34-22 at then-No. 1 Fort Dorchester to snap the Patriots’ 19-game winning streak.
Dutch Fork defeated Fort Dorchester for a second time last week with a dominating 49-24 victory.
“Previous teams had the hunger and we got a little complacent (last year), but we got the hunger back and we are ready,” Dutch Fork offensive/defensive lineman Malik Sumter said. “…We want to finish this thing off right.”
Dutch Fork is one of two teams from the Midlands playing for a state championship. Batesburg-Leesville is going for its eighth title in school history and faces defending champion Abbeville for the Class 2A title Friday at Benedict College.
The Panthers lost their final two regular season games, but regrouped and won all four playoff games on the road to make it to the championship game.
“We knew we had to go on the road and play for each other and have a sense of pride. Play for the Panthers on the chest and not the name on the back,” Batesburg-Leesville lineman Joshua Scruggs said.
Batesburg-Leesville’s mettle was tested last week against Barnwell in the Lower State championship game. The Panthers trailed 14-0 five minutes into the game, but rallied for a 20-14 victory.
“A lot of teams would have wavered, but our kids never doubted,” Batesburg-Leesville coach Perry Woolbright said. “You never saw them blink an eye or slow down like that.”
Woolbright is in his first title game as head coach after returning to the Midlands following three years at North Myrtle Beach. He looks to join his grandfather, Cecil, as a state championship winning coach. Cecil Woolbright won two state titles at Chapin and the stadium is named after him.
At Benedict College
Class 1A: Lake View vs. Lamar, 5 p.m.
Class 2A: Batesburg-Leesville vs. Abbeville, 8 p.m.
At Williams-Brice Stadium
Class 4A: South Pointe vs. Hartsville, Noon
Class 3A: Chapman vs. Dillon, 3 p.m.
Class 5A: Dutch Fork vs. Boiling Springs, 6:30 p.m.
TV/Internet: Friday’s games will be on www.nfhsnetwork.com and Saturday’s Class 3A and 4A on WACH Fox 57. Class 5A game will be on WACH Fox 57.2 or 1250 (Time Warner Cable). All three games Saturday will be streamed on www.wach.com