PETTICOAT JUNCTION, S.C. --- Silver Bluff senior Kyle Mackey doesn't know what it's like to a lose a region championship.
The four-year starting placekicker is one of 14 seniors on the Bulldogs roster, and that 2010 class already owns three region titles.
This Thursday, they'll go for a perfect four for four.
"It's almost become routine. It's tradition to win the region every year," Mackey said. "It's still a big deal, but it's also normal to us. It's just one of those things that's expected."
The Bulldogs need only a win over Pelion (3-5) in a rare Thursday night game this week to claim another Region 5-AA championship.
If all goes according to Silver Bluff's plans, Thursday's win will mark the ninth region title in 11 years for the school.
Such a winning legacy makes region championship games almost as common as homecoming at the Class AA school, but coach Al Lown said it's still considered a big accomplishment.
"It hasn't lost its luster," he said. "It's still important to win a region title, put the banner up and get the T-shirt. But obviously, we set our goals a little higher."
The same is true at Strom Thurmond, another Class AA school with plenty of region title banners.
A win Friday night against Newberry (6-2) would give the Rebels their fifth region championship in six years. But coach Lee Sawyer said a 2009 region trophy, if his team can win it, might end up being one of his all-time favorites.
The expectations at the beginning of the season were lower than usual after Strom Thurmond lost several starters to graduation and dropped two of its first three games. But the Rebels have won five in a row to put themselves in position to carry on the winning tradition.
"If we could pull this one off, this could be my most satisfying (region championship)," Sawyer said. "Nobody expected us to be in this position. We were too young and too inexperienced. This is a new bunch, and they've worked hard."
Region championship games are often considered season-validating goals for teams. For Silver Bluff and Strom Thurmond, they're more like first steps toward a much loftier pursuit.
Coaches and players rarely talk publicly about state championship hopes with a full two weeks left before the state playoffs begin, but the expectations lean toward such big games this time of year at Strom Thurmond and Silver Bluff.
"Region championships are all that matter at some schools, but that's not the way we feel around here," Mackey said. "We're not satisfied with that."
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Because of an insufficient number of votes, there is no South Carolina Associated Press prep poll this week.
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