High School Football

Few wins and ‘ecstatic’ to be there. How SC playoffs have room for struggling teams

It didn’t hit Eau Claire’s Brandon Carlos until he got home last Friday night after the win over Columbia High School.

Carlos admitted he got a little emotional after the Shamrocks’ 20-14 victory over Columbia. It was Eau Claire’s first win of the year — and it guaranteed them a spot in the playoffs.

The Shamrocks (1-9, 1-3 region) finished fourth in five-team Region 3-2A, where the top four teams make the postseason. Eau Claire heads to Burke on Friday for a first-round game and the school’s first playoff appearance since 2013.

“When I got home, I did start to cry because going to the playoffs is an experience I never had before,” Carlos said. “To be honest I thought the season was over. But once (quarterback) Shytrell O’neil started scoring and we started winning, I was like, ‘We are going to go to the playoffs.’ It is a blessing to be able to go.”

Forty-one of the 150 teams to make the playoffs in South Carolina this year have a losing overall record, which raises the question of whether too many teams are allowed in the postseason — or if the entire system needs to change.

Eau Claire missed out on the playoffs last year despite a 4-6 overall record. They were winless a year ago in region play, and a team’s region finish determines their postseason fate.

The Shamrocks this year are looking at the playoffs as an opportunity.

“We had a rough season and we played a lot of good teams,” Eau Claire coach Michael Kelly said. “Our guys gave it everything they had (last week). Now, everyone is 0-0.”

Eau Claire is one of two 1-9 teams in this year’s South Carolina High School League playoffs. Dixie also is 1-9 in Class A, but that’s not even the worst record entering the postseason. In Class A, Hemingway went 0-10 in the regular season and hosted first-round game against Scott’s Branch on Thursday night.

Scott’s Branch defeated Hemingway, 36-7.

The Tigers were part of four-team Region 6-A, and the top three teams were guaranteed a spot in the playoffs based on the brackets formed from the 2018-20 realignment. But Creek Bridge High School, one of the teams in the region, closed after last year and merged with Mullins High. Because of that, Lake View, Green Sea Floyds and Hemingway all got into the playoffs from Region 6-A.

This is a rare down year for Hemingway, which played for Lower State title last year and won 12 games last year.

“We’ve pretty much look at it as another opportunity, new season,” first-year Hemingway coach Charlie Richards said this week. “My guys are still fighting. We’re a young inexperienced group. It’s definitely not an ideal year for the playoffs. We had a team in our region close its school down in the middle of a cycle so we only had three teams.”

SCHSL assistant commissioner Charlie Wentzky called the Hemingway situation an “anomaly” that likely would have been avoided had Creek Bridge not closed.

“We are concerned about the image of it,” Wentzy said, “but that is how the bracket was set up.”

It isn’t the first time a winless or one-win team has gotten into the playoffs. Under the old Big 16 system, which was made up of 16 largest schools in the state by enrollment, all teams were guaranteed a playoff spot no matter their record.

Playoff spots nowadays are determined by region finish, so a team could go winless in non-region play and then win all of its region games to make the playoffs. Beaufort, which competes in four-team Region 7-4A, went 1-5 outside of their region before going 3-0 and winning the region.

So what are some possible solutions?

Some coaches and fans have said they would be in favor of eliminating a round of the playoffs, which would reward the teams with better regular-season records and reduce the amount of teams that qualify for the playoffs.

“It would be nice to possibly see a change, maybe a points system and/or the top two in the region,” said Richards, a former Keenan head coach who was an assistant at Irmo last year.

SC Varsity publisher Jim Baxter proposed that the playoffs just allow region champions and second-place finishers plus with the rest by eight at-large berths — or simply just take the region champion and the region’s second-place team.

Any changes would have to be decided by each of South Carolina’s five classifications. The number of the teams making the playoffs and the playoff bracket are decided on by each class and ultimately approved by the SCHSL executive committee.

Change could come with realignment for the 2020-22 seasons. There are likely going to be more teams in Class A, which should greatly decrease the possibility of a winless or one-win team making the postseason. Until then, teams like Eau Claire and Hemingway will get a shot to have that postseason experience.

“We are just ecstatic we can go to the playoffs. It is going to be an experience for us,” EC quarterback Shytrell O’neil said.

SCHSL Playoff Schedule

Friday

Class 5A

Upper State

Blythewood at Laurens

Nation Ford at Byrnes

Woodmont at Sumter

Gaffney at Rock Hill

Greenwood at Dorman

Westside at Spring Valley

Boiling Springs at Clover

Mauldin at TL Hanna

Lower State

Chapin at Dutch Fork

Wando at Conway

Lexington at Fort Dorchester

West Florence at Berkeley

Carolina Forest 42, Cane Bay 7 (Thursday)

West Ashley at River Bluff

South Florence at Goose Creek

Lugoff-Elgin at Summerville

Class 4A

Upper State

Palmetto at Greenville

York at Belton Honea Path

Greer at South Pointe

Orangeburg-Wilkinson at Wren

Lancaster at Daniel

Westwood at Eastside

Walhalla at AC Flora

Travelers Rest at Ridge View

Lower State

Marlboro County at Lower Richland

Colleton County at Airport

Lakewood at Myrtle Beach

North Myrtle Beach at North Augusta

Brookland-Cayce (bye)

Wilson at Hilton Head Island

Beaufort (bye)

South Aiken at Hartsville

Class 3A

Upper State

Southside at Pendleton

Indian Land at Woodruff

Liberty at Chapman

Newberry at Chester

Fairfield Central at Union County

Chesnee at Seneca

Clinton at Camden

Powdersville at Broome

Lower State

Cheraw at Manning

Battery Creek at Strom Thurmond

Georgetown at Aynor

Swansea at May River

Ridgeland-Hardeeville at Gilbert

Lake City at Bishop England

Edisto at Wade Hampton

Waccamaw at Dillon

Class 2A

Upper State

Ninety-Six at Southside Christian

Central at Batesburg-Leesville

CA Johnson at Buford

Blacksburg at Saluda

Lewisville at Abbeville

Christ Church at Andrew Jackson

Fox Creek at Gray Collegiate (Midlands Sports Complex)

Lee Central at St. Joseph’s

Lower State

Latta at Timberland

Bamberg-Ehrhardt at Mullins

Hanah-Pamplico at Barnwell

Eau Claire at Burke

Johnsonville at Calhoun County

East Clarendon at Woodland

Oceanside Collegiate at Andrews

Whale Branch at Phillip Simmons

Class A

Upper State

Great Falls at Ridge Spring Monetta

Dixie at McBee

Hunter Kinard Tyler at Ware Shoals

Williston-Elko at McCormick

Byes: Whitmire, Lamar, Wagener-Salley, Blackville-Hilda

Lower State

Cross at Military Magnet

Denmark-Olar at Lake View

Scott’s Branch 36, Hemingway 7 (Thursday)

Bethune Bowman at St. John’s

Byes: Branchville, CE Murray, Baptist Hill, Green Sea Floyds

SCISA

Class 3A

Augusta Christian at Hammond

Cardinal Newman at Heathwood Hall

Porter-Gaud at Laurence Manning

Ben Lippen at First Baptist

Class 2A

Northwood at Trinity Byrnes

Robert E. Lee at Orangeburg Prep

Greenwood Christian at Hilton Head Christian

Hilton Head Prep at Florence Christian

Class A

Dorchester at Pee Dee Academy

Dillon Christian at Thomas Heyward

The King’s Academy at Bethesda Academy

Colleton Prep at Carolina Academy

8-man

Calhoun Academy at Andrew Jackson

Palmetto Christian at Wardlaw

Holly Hill at Richard Winn

Clarendon Hall at St. John’s Christian

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Lou Bezjak is the High School Sports Prep Coordinator for The State and Island Packet. He has covered high school sports in South Carolina for 16 years and is a two-time South Carolina Sports Writer of the Year by the National Sports Media Association.
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