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Abbeville High School

Abbeville should be contenders again in 2018

By C.R. Cumbee

Staff Writer

Abbeville—It is difficult to reach the top of the mountain, but even more challenging to stay there. Abbeville head coach Jamie Nickles has guided the Panthers to numerous state championships over the past decade and there rarely seems to be a rebuilding phase.

“It’s how they compete. Each and every Friday night, they lay it on the line for each other and for Abbeville, and I’m very grateful to them for that, win or lose,” Nickles said.

For the third consecutive year, the Panthers wrapped up its season with a Class AA championship. They took down Silver Bluff in 2015, Batesburg-Leesville in 2016, and this year the needed a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter to overcome Bamberg-Ehrhardt, 14-7.

“I told our guys, ‘No Regrets.’ Leave it all out on field. Play with good fundamentals and live with the outcome. Leave it all on the line,” Nickles said.

Abbeville finished 14-1 overall this fall and are a jaw-dropping 40-3-1 during this three-year stretch. The trio of losses came to Union County, Strom Thurmond and Hartsville, but the Panthers also snapped Christ Church’s state-record streak of 55 consecutive victories early in the run.

This year’s title may have been the most gratifying, as the team overcame more adversity than expected. Several players missed critical action down the stretch, but someone else continued to step up as needed.

“It’s been a battle of attrition, fighting through injuries and a next-man-up mentality,” Nickles said. “Ever since the Hartsville game, we’ve dealt with injuries just about every week.

“Every week is a learning process. I think you saw us in the region get better each week because we kind of had to reinvent ourselves each week after we lost (running back) Cortney (Jackson). Then the playoffs came and we had to fight through the last few weeks. That’s what makes me so proud of this group. They fought through those injuries and hard times.”

Because of his leadership, Nickles will receive the High School Sports Report’s highest coaching honor – the Statewide John McKissick Coaching Excellence Award at the annual fall sports banquet in Columbia.

With the season coming now over, Abbeville will say goodbye to a number of senior contributors. It was a group that had issues at times, but ultimately rose to the occasion when their number was called.

“They will always have a special place in my heart. They’re one of my favorite classes of all because they tried me. They brought out the best in us as coaches. We had to deal with some things…When the injuries came in and it was crunch time, they really beared down and led us to an incredible night,” Nickles said.

Quarterback Bryce Jackson excelled in his one year as the starter under center, completing 47-of-86 passes for 902 yards with 11 touchdowns and only two interceptions. He also rushed for 915 yards and added 12 more scores on the ground.

Jackson, who committed to the College of Charleston for baseball, was selected to the North-South all-star game and was recently named the Class AA Player of the Year by the HSSR.

Another mainstay in the backfield will depart as well. Junior Rapley was a three-year contributor at running back and constantly made plays when he touched the ball.

Also a North-South all-star, Rapley led the Panthers with 1,202 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing. He was also the team’s top pass catcher with 423 yards and 4 TDs on 18 receptions, and was selected to the HSSR Class AA Offense.

Other seniors leaving include running back Jermaine Blackwell, who ended the campaign with 957 rushing yards and 16 scores. Wide receiver Dooley Sanders (337 yards, 5 TD) and offensive linemen Jacob Stone (HSSR Class AA Offense) and Griffin Lewis will also graduate.

On defense, the Panthers will have to replace linebackers Dee Graham and Whoodie Goodwin, who recorded 135 and 113 tackles, respectively. Both players will be honored at the HSSR all-state banquet as members of the Class AA Defense.

Defensive end Charles Holback racked up 102 stops, and linebacker Tyrese Paul (62 tackles) and lineman Jihad Washington (42 tackles) will move on as well. Gone from the secondary will be Tae Rayford (61 stops, 10 PBU) and Ravon Bobo (66 tackles).

Looking ahead to 2018, Abbeville has three returning starters on the offensive line in Connor Nickles (HSSR All-Rookie Team), Jake Hill and Trai Jones.

 Jackson, who gained 525 yards with nine touchdowns in just over half a season, should be healthy after rehabbing his injury, and Dominick Washington will be back after churning up nearly 700 yards on the ground.

Nate Temple (HSSR Class AA Defense), Carson Smith and Ar’Darius Burton return on the defensive front while Jhalyn Shuler continues to see time at linebacker. The secondary may be the strength next fall with Malik Leach, David Cobb and Gabe Calhoun back.

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