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AAAAA Football Feature

By Billy G. Baker

Publisher

Moncks Corner — As the second season of the AAAAA football playoffs begin in South Carolina it should be noted that only three teams, Dutch Fork, T.L. Hanna, and Sumter, finished the regular season undefeated with Dutch Fork nationally ranked among the Top 25 teams in The USA Today publication.

The Silver Foxes are competing in the lower state this season and because Region 5-AAAAA/Region 4-AAAAA are hybrid regions, they will alternate between lower and upper state every other year. This situation places traditional lower state competitor Sumter, the winner of Region 4-AAAAA, in the upper state bracket for the first time this year. T.L. Hanna is the top seed out of Region 1-AAAAA.

The 8 region AAAAA region winners drew automatic number one seeds. Joining the aforementioned are Dorman from Region 2-AAAAA, Rock Hill from Region 3-AAAAA, West Florence in Region 6-AAAAA, Berkeley from Region 7-AAAAA and Summerville is the number one seed from Region 8-AAAAA.

The five-week 32 team playoffs begin this week (Nov. 9th) and concludes with the state title game slated at USC’s Williams-Brice Stadium on December 8th. Last year Dutch Fork nipped Dorman 28-27 in a down to wire game that sent fans from both team’s home wore out from the excitement of the game. Dutch Fork is once again favored to win what would be their third straight AAAAA title in a row should they defend their title. The AAAAA classification was created two years ago in South Carolina.  

In week one upper state games T.L. Hanna will host five seeded Spartanburg, while four seeded Boiling Springs travels to two seeded Northwestern. Dorman will host four seeded Greenwood while number two seed Blythewood hosts Nation Ford.  Rock Hill entertains 5th seeded Laurens while second seeded Woodmont has a rare home playoff game against third seeded Gaffney, rounding out first week games in the upper state is Sumter hosting Spring Valley and second seeded Byrnes hosts third seeded Westside.

In the lower state bracket Dutch Fork hosts number four seed South Florence while number two seeded Cane Bay hosts third seeded West Ashley. West Florence entertains Ashley Ridge while second seeded Fort Dorchester plays third seeded Wando. The Berkeley Stags will host third seeded Irmo while second seeded River Bluff is home to challenge third seeded Conway. Rounding out games in the lower bracket are Summerville hosting I-26 rival and fourth seeded Stratford while second seeded Carolina Forest will host third seeded Lexington.

While most of the higher seeded teams are heavy favorites you can expect an upset or two in Week One of the playoffs. The Boiling Springs/Northwestern game should be very close along with the West Ashley versus Cane Bay. The Wildcats beat Cane Bay 25-22 earlier in the season.  Fans should also anticipate a close to the wire game between Carolina Forest and Lexington.

Depending on the outcomes of AAAAA games in Week One the following week on November 16th could set up a couple of interesting early showdowns.  Byrnes (9-2 if they win) would travel to Sumter (10-0) should they both win first round games and this game should draw a lot of interest from two evenly matched traditional powers who would have only met in the finals in other years.

Looking ahead to Week Three of the playoffs there are numerous marquee match-up possibilities if the higher seeds win in the first two weeks. You always wonder how Thanksgiving following the day before effects certain teams. No kidding, some players could be suffering from indigestion if they over-eat on this festive day where food is a high priority. How coaches practice their teams on Thanksgiving is also a key factor. Possible contests could pit T.L. Hanna against Dorman with the Yellow Jackets hosting. Gaffney has the strong potential of going on the road against the winner of the Sumter-Byrnes week two game and this will draw a huge crowd as well.  Another potential rematch in Week Three is Dutch Fork travelling down to rival Fort Dorchester in a game that should get Patriot fans excited as they had to travel to Dutch Fork last season on a cold night with the Silver Foxes advancing to the finals. Also, if higher seeds win each week, you could have an Old Classic revisited with Berkeley hosting Summerville. The Stags scored in the final minute of their earlier game this season with the Green Wave to take that game.   

In the end the HSSR feels like the Dutch Fork/Fort Dorchester survivor from the lower state will advance to play the winner between T.L. Hanna/Dorman from week three. However, Gaffney is a great road team, and following the bracket, the Indians will be on the road throughout the playoffs unless major upsets happen.  In week four the Sumter/Byrnes winner would be on the road to face the T.L. Hanna/Dorman winner and football logic dictates that the home team has a seven- point advantage. Sumter just might be the spoiler if they could play that week four playoff game at home.

Pundits will ask if it really matters how the brackets favor some teams in 2018, because in the end Dutch Fork has that great combination of great coaching (Tom Knotts) and great talent, and only injuries can slow them down. At the end of the regular season Dutch Fork had beat teams by the culmination of 490-83! Only West Florence (491) had scored more points in AAAAA. Dutch Fork had the top-rated defense giving up just 63 points all season. The only other AAAAA team under 100 points allowed on defense was Sumter (93).

Some highly rated seniors in AAAAA recruiting buffs might need to go see play in person is T.L. Hanna five- star defensive lineman Zacch Pickens (6-4, 245) headed to South Carolina, or number two rated HSSR prospect receiver Northwestern’s Jamario Holley (5-11, 180) also headed to USC. Jacoby Pinckney is a highly rated receiver from Dorman headed to Virginia Tech. Jalen Geiger is a top-rated defensive back at Spring Valley headed to Kentucky and Berkeley is led by receiver/defensive back D.J. Chisolm (5-9, 161) headed to East Carolina.

Do not pass up an opportunity to see West Florence running back Ailym Ford (5-10, 185) at West Florence. He is averaging nearly 10 yard a carry. Gaffney’s Hunter Bullock (6-4, 235) is a highly regarded senior tight end headed to James Madison along with Irmo running back Kendrell Flowers (6-0, 205) headed to Wake Forest. Summerville quarterback Johnathan Bennett (6-1, 205) is headed to Liberty and he is having a great year for the Green Wave.

These are just a few of the great players in AAAAA heading off to major college football next season. The AAAAA classification is loaded with top junior talent as well. Do not pass up a chance to see Conway defensive lineman Tonka Hemingway (6-2, 255) or the junior duo from Dutch Fork, running back Ron Hoff (5-10, 181) and receiver Jalin Hyatt (5-11, 165).  At Gaffney one of the top linebackers in the Southeast is four star rated Jemari Littlejohn (6-0, 220) who plays with a high motor and super intensity. These are just a few of the juniors playing in AAAAA right now.

  


© 2017 High School Sports Report

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