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AAA Football Feature

By Billy G. Baker


Moncks Corner — The AAA football playoffs begin in South Carolina (Nov. 9th) with as much parity as one can remember with tradition rich Dillon (8-0), Chapman (10-0), Chester (10-0), and newcomer May River (10-0) all being undefeated with hopes of surviving to the gold medal round scheduled for USC’s Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday, December 8th.

Dillon, hosting Ridgeland-Hardeeville this week, has played in the last six state title finals, winning five of them, as either a member of AA or AAA. Although their season was marred by Hurricane Florence the Wildcats have stayed focused on their state title goal, and in the 8 games they did play, Dillon dominated opponents 371 to 54. The Nasty Cats of defense are the only defense in AAA under 100 points allowed coming into the playoffs.

Head Dillon coach Jackie Hayes (314-52) considers this year’s team the best blend of talent in all grades he has had in his 27 Hall of Fame seasons in Dillon. The talent level ranges from senior outside linebacker/defensive end Shamar McCollum (6-4, 215) headed to Wake Forest, all the way down to freshman running back Nemo Squires (5-11, 185) who leads the team in rushing with 733 net yards on 89 carries and 11 touchdowns. Then you sandwich in junior quarterback Jay Lester who has completed 86 of 110 passes for 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns one can see why Dillon maintains the process of championship football from year to year. (Dillon simply does an outstanding job with player development.)

Throw in junior Wildcat power back Tyquan King (6-2, 210) who has gained 574 yards on 55 carries and 11 touchdowns and offensive lineman road graders like future five-star sophomore tackle James Avery Hewitt (6-3, 283) and three-year starter Khalil Bethea (6-2, 265) you have the makings of an offense hard to stop. Oh, did we mention speedy two-way performer Corrian Wright with 24 catches for 480 yards and six scores or sophomore Ahmani Bruce-Huggins who has 27 catches for 480 yards and six touchdowns.

McCollum is joined by tackling machines Roy Covington who leads the Nasty Cats with seven sacks along with Jadarius McDaniel (37), Dray Thompson (33), Jerenty Shakai (32) and Isiah Benjamin (30). Keep in mind Dillon has played just 8 games and most of their starters have only played one half of football this season.       

Dillon and Chapman have met in the finals the past two years and they are 1-1 with each team winning a state title. Despite graduating 22 seniors from a 14-1 team last season Panther head coach Mark Hodge welcomed 14 juniors and 20 sophomores back this season from a year ago. The team has moved on from heavy graduation losses (all-everything Colton Bailey) and numerus players have answered the bell of leadership this season.

Chapman is the top scoring offense in AAA with 491 points, but their defense has allowed 252 points to rank near the middle of the pack statewide. While a team will need to out-score the Panthers to win, most pundits agree that it is defense that wins championships. This has certainly been the mantra of Dillon through their rich history.

The Panthers returned 11 starters to the team this season led by the return of three offensive line starters left tackle Luke Cromer (5-11, 205), left guard Dillon Johnson 5-10, 230) and center Trey Wilson (5-9, 200).  Junior quarterback Mikele Colasurdo (6-0, 180) has had an outstanding season so far completing 121 of 190 passes for 1,885 yards and 24 touchdowns. He has also rushed for 314 yards on 66 carries for another four rushing touchdowns. His top two receivers are speedy juniors Ben Rollins who has caught 29 passes for 511 yards and five scores along with Dashun Mitchell who has caught 24 passes for 467 yards and 8 touchdowns.  

May River, from Beaufort County, is starting its third year of existence as a school and they are among the most improved teams in the state after finishing 2-8 a year ago.  The Sharks are head coached by Rodney Summers and they begin their quest for a AAA state title as a one seed at home against four seed Lake City.  Having out-scored teams 393-106 this season the Sharks have displayed good balance on both offense and defense.

When head coach Victor Floyd retuned to Chester after a six- year coaching stint in Georgia he knew his program had to go through a building progress and the Cyclones came into the 2018 season fighting for respect and recognition. No doubt at 10-0 both have been achieved. Chester begins the first week of the playoffs by hosting ever improving and four seeded Liberty (5-5). 

Great teams are usually loaded on the back end with a group of seniors, or on the front end with an outstanding freshman or two mixed in. With 17 starters back from a 9-3 team last season the foundation had certainly been laid for an upsurge this season. The Cyclone’s theme coming into this season is “The Next Step.”

The emergence of freshman quarterback Zan Durham (6-2, 210) allowed Chester to use natural athlete Pha’leak Brown (5-10, 200) as a running back or even some on defense. The offensive line is anchored by Shrine Bowler Wyatt Tunall (6-6, 270) and he is committed to Appalachian State.

In an earlier interview Coach Floyd said this about his freshman quarterback, “He can flick his wrist and throw a pass 65 yards and he is a true dual threat,” said Coach Floyd.  “His uncle is William Gallman who started three years at USC in basketball. He rushed for 50 yards in our first game of the season and we expect him to get even better as the seasons goes along.”   

Joining Dillon, May River, Chester, and Chapman as top seeds are Union County, Hanahan, and Strom Thurmond. Chapman will host four seeded Emerald and the Panthers are heavily favored. Auburn fans in the upstate area are encouraged to attend the game and cheer for Emerald tight end Luke Deal who is committed to Auburn. Other first round games include third seeded Camden on the road to second seeded Seneca and the Bulldogs are a slight favorite to advance.

Union County is hosting number four seed Chesnee while two seed Indian Land is favored over three seed Crescent two seed Southside’s explosive offense hosts an upset minded Fairfield Central. Two seeded Woodruff is favored over three seeded Broome at home.

Other games from the lower state include two seed Manning hosting three seed Swansea while two seed Gilbert hosts improving Georgetown and one seeded Hanahan hosts a rebuilding Pelion. Upstart two seeded Aynor hosts Pelion, rebuilding four seed Bishop England is on the road to one seed Strom Thurmond, and two seeded Wade Hampton (H) is favored over visiting Loris.  

In the finals the HSSR views the AAA playoffs as Chapman or Chester chasing Dillon in the gold medal round in the Big House on December 8th. Upsets can happen, and unfortunate injuries can derail your goals, but on paper these are the best three teams in AAA entering the playoffs in South Carolina. (With a high honorable mention to newcomer May River!)    


© 2017 High School Sports Report

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