All three high school football teams in Laurens County have improved on the win-loss records of 2018, and two get the reward of playoff participation.
Region 1-5A champion Laurens takes on Blythewood, located northeast of Columbia, in the friendly surroundings of K.C. Hanna Stadium, where the Raiders are 5-0 this year.
Clinton, the fourth seed in Region 3-3A, buses to Camden to take on the Bulldogs at the oldest facility in the state that is still in active use. This is Camden’s 88th season at Zemp Stadium, which opened in 1929 and was refurbished in 1997.
Blythewood (5-5) at Laurens (8-1): The Bengals won one region game, against Irmo, this year. The Raiders won seven. Blythewood is 4-2 outside Region 4; Laurens is 1-1 outside Region 1.
Laurens’ perfect region record matches its 7-game win streak. The Raiders opened with a 28-0 win over Clinton, skipped a game at Myrtle Beach due to tropical weather, fell at Hillcrest, 23-6 … and have swept every game since.
Chris Liner’s sixth Laurens squad is run-oriented but pass-effective. Senior quarterback Ryan Campbell has rushed for 727 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has completed 39 out of 67 passes for 761 yards and six touchdowns.
Five Raider backs – Campbell, Zy Todd, Duane Martin, Jordan Woodruff and Jeremiah Fuller – have rushed for more than 300 yards each.
Dee Foster leads the receiving corps with 23 catches for 462 yards.
The Laurens coaching staff grades defensive performance by a category known as season production points. The rankings are: (1.) Martin 162 (51 tackles); (2.) Mark McGowan 148 (50); (3.) Garrett Addy 140 (53); (4.) Lindin Gault 131 (65); and (5.) Jackson Mahon 107 (41).
During the regular season, Laurens scored 295 points and allowed 163. Blythewood scored 242 and allowed 257. The Raiders have scored nine points a game in the fourth quarter; the Bengals have averaged 2.5.
Blythewood’s five victories were against Ridge View (14-0), Fairfield Central (35-21), North Augusta (27-24), Beaufort (56-21) and Irmo (42-35).
Clinton (4-6) at Camden (9-1): The Red Devils have put themselves in position to pull two upsets in the past three weeks but let Newberry and Woodruff escape. What that indicates is that Clinton has gotten much better but hasn’t yet been able to cross the barrier between competing and winning.
In 2017, its last playoff appearance, Clinton also came close to pulling off what would have been a stunning upset. Seneca won that game in the final minute, 18-14.
In last week’s game at Woodruff, Clinton rolled up 255 rushing yards, with Kimon Quarles, Greg Sanders and Shyquan Kinard combing for 249 of them. The Wolverines overcame the booming consistency of the Red Devils, who controlled the ball for 63 percent of the game, with big plays. Woodruff’s touchdowns were a 55-yard Shamare Dendy run and a 54-yard pass Stephen Bailey pass.
The Bulldogs won Region 4 by virtue of a 28-7 victory over Chester, breaking a first-place tie. Camden’s only loss was to Fairfield Central, 21-20.
Camden has a rushing game to match Clinton, dominated by Willis Lane, who averages 160.8 yards per game. Quarterback Jaffari Pearson averages 109 yards passing, and Marcellus Juggins leads the defense with 9.1 tackles per game.
In conclusion, some attention should be directed to the accomplishments of Laurens Academy, which improved its record from 3-7 to 4-5 but missed a playoff berth.
The Crusaders’ brand of 8-man football is a prolific hybrid. During the season’s nine games, LA averaged 338.6 yards of offense, most attributable statistically to quarterback Thomas Lowry, who passed for 2,084 yards and rushed for 822. Lowry completed 68.3 percent of his 230 passes, throwing 30 touchdowns and only four interceptions. The junior averaged 13.3 yards a completion and 6.3 a rush.
Completing all those passes meant there were plenty of teammates to catch them. Clarence Bertoli caught 63, Cal Robertson 44, Diamonte Grant 27 and Caio Rita 23.
As a team, the Crusaders scored 334 points, 37.1 per game. Bertoli scored 102 of them.
The leading tacklers were: (1.) Robertson 82, (2.) Grant 65, (3.) Lowry 61, (4.) Carson Venable 41, (5.) Rita 39, (6.) Reles Littleton 34, (7.) Bertoli 33, and (8.) Will Jones 24.
Rita is the only senior.