A pair of area South Carolina football teams will play state quarterfinals games Friday. For both North Augusta and Strom Thurmond, the path to a state semifinals appearance will go through all too familiar foes.
North Augusta (11-1) will travel to Goose Creek (9-3) in a Class AAAA state playoff second round meeting, while the Class AA Rebels (10-2) will play at Central (10-2).
For the Yellow Jackets, the familiarity comes from an annual tradition. After a meeting of South Carolina high school athletic directors years ago, North Augusta coach Dan Pippin, then at South Aiken, and Goose Creek coach Chuck Reed decided to bring their football teams together for a preseason scrimmage. The two coaches liked the arrangement so much they've scheduled the scrimmage every year.
"I've probably scrimmaged them six or seven times," Pippin said. "We actually joked around at the scrimmage this year, saying it'd be cool if this was a lower state finals game at the end of the year. We laughed about it then."
The matchup, though two games short of a state title meeting, will be no laughing matter Friday when the two teams, both blossoming from subpar programs in recent years into a pair of state championship contenders, will take the field in Goose Creek.
At the same time, Strom Thurmond will suit up against Central in the state playoffs for the second year in a row. Central ended the Rebels' season a year ago, breaking up Strom Thurmond's undefeated season. The chance at revenge has the Rebels properly motivated.
"We got back to this point. That's what I'm proud of," Strom Thurmond coach Lee Sawyer said. "We graduated so many people, and to be back in the same position as last year is great. We just have to make sure we have a different result."
Sawyer said the 2009 campaign has been his most satisfying year as a coach, aside from the 2005 state championship season. The Rebels lost two of their first three games this season, but have since won nine consecutive games.
"We had a core of three-year starters from year-to-year that has made the difference," Sawyer said.
"There's Marcelis (Thompson), Decory Williams and Jonathan Williams, and then you build around them and just hope you can continue the tradition."
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
CLASS AAAA DIVISION II STATE QUARTERFINALS
North Augusta at Goose Creek: Yellow Jackets could tie school record for wins with a victory.
CLASS AA STATE QUARTERFINALS
Strom Thurmond at Central: Rebels trying to avenge last year's playoff defeat at the hands of Central that ended an otherwise undefeated season.
CLASS A DIVISION II STATE SEMIFINALS
Ware Shoals at Williston-Elko: Undefeated Blue Devils are one win away from playing for a state championship.
* Kickoff is at 7:30 for all three matchups.