WILLISTON, S.C. --- Memories of a state championship loss still haunt the Williston-Elko upperclassmen. Last year's loss in the Class A Division II state title game hurt enough to make senior Ondrew Bellinger speak up after a less-than-stellar practice Monday.
"Coach, I gotta say something," he said.
The Blue Devils are preparing for a rematch with Scott's Branch in the state championship game today in Orangeburg, S.C. Bellinger wanted to make sure this second chance won't be wasted. He appealed to his teammates to make the most of this week.
"Losing that game last year hurt," he said. "This is the opportunity people dream about. We have to seize this moment. It means a lot."
Unlike last season, the Blue Devils (13-0) know exactly what to expect when they head to the campus of South Carolina State. Much of last year's team has returned, and coach Dwayne Garrick said his team's experience will help.
"The first time you get there you look around, it's a big college stadium, and it can be overwhelming," he said. "That hurt us focus-wise. Mentally, we'll be more prepared, because this time we'll know what to expect."
Quarterback Tamyn Garrick, known simply as "Gator" to his teammates, is the perfect example of the difference between the 2008 squad and this year's team. He stepped into the spotlight last year as an untested sophomore in the first round of the state playoffs after Williston-Elko's starting quarterback went down with an injury. Garrick led the Blue Devils to the finals, but his interception late in the fourth quarter killed a comeback attempt in a 14-6 loss.
Tamyn, the coach's son, said the play and the loss have replayed over and over in his mind. He and his dad sat down again this past weekend and watched the game film.
"It definitely left a bad taste in our mouths," Tamyn said. "It's a chance to redeem ourselves. It's a chance to redeem myself personally.
"Last year, we were celebrating in practice because we made it to the state championship game. This year, there's no celebrating right now. The job's not done."
Tamyn is much more experienced and ready for the spotlight this time, Dwayne Garrick said. The same is true for the rest of the team.
"We've got a little different attitude this time," the coach said. "I don't know that we played well enough to win last year. This year we've got more weapons offensively, and we've been there before."
Led on offense by Tamyn Garrick and playmakers Kendric Salley and Dexter Staley, the Blue Devils haven't come close to a loss this season. Staley, who dressed out but practiced in a limited capacity this week with an injured shoulder, will still be ready to play, Dwayne Garrick said.
Staley opened the year with a six-touchdown game in a blowout over Barnwell. He led a Williston-Elko squad that scored the most points in the regular season in South Carolina and is averaging 51 a game. The Blue Devils' closest victory, an 18-point win in the sixth week, came against Hunter-Kinard-Tyler, who Williston-Elko beat twice this year.
Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or email@example.com.
WILLISTON-ELKO'S ROAD TO FINALS
FIRST ROUND: Defeated Great Falls 24-0
QUARTERFINALS: Defeated Hunter-Kinard-Tyler 38-18
SEMIFINALS: Defeated Ware Shoals 44-20
FINALS: vs. Scott's Branch at South Carolina State, today, noon