A week ago, not only were all the high school football teams of Laurens County playing at home; they were all observing Homecoming.
Presbyterian College played its football game on the road.
This week, sites are reversed. Laurens District High School (2-5, 1-3 Region 1-5A) is in Greenville to play J.L. Mann (0-7, 0-4). Clinton (2-5, 1-1 Region 3-3A) is at Newberry (3-4, 1-1). Laurens Academy (2-5) is in Blackville to play Jefferson Davis Academy (7-1). All three games start at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
Presbyterian (2-2, 0-1 Big South), meanwhile, is at Bailey Memorial Stadium at noon on Saturday to face Hampton (2-3), a Virginia school that is moving into the Big South while PC is moving out.
The Raiders’ need a boost in their playoff hopes against a Patriots team they should be able to handle.
Laurens’ recent experience has been a reminder of a famous punch line in an old Pogo comic: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
Crucial mistakes have blown up the games against Hillcrest, Greenwood, Westside and, most recently, Woodmont. This season the Raiders have committed 14 more turnovers than they’ve forced.
In head coach Chris Liner’s mind, the significant part of this game is his team, not J.L. Mann.
“We’ve got to do the little things right,” he said, “from just firing off the line to holding onto the football.
“Mistakes have been our Achilles heel, especially in the last four or five games. Meanwhile, we’ve only recovered two fumbles and made two interceptions all year.”
Liner and his staff have tried every drill, every instruction and every pep talk they can muster.
“We play a lot of attention to detail,” Liner said, “but it’s just not showing. It’s like staying up all night studying for a test, and then you make an F.
“That’s the best analogy I can give.”
Mann has come close against Southside (26-19) and Easley (21-13), but the rest of the season to date has been a wipe-out. The Patriots have fallen 51-0 to Mauldin, 65-20 to Hanna, 35-6 to Woodmont and 56-7 to Westside.
Clinton was the only Laurens County team to win its Homecoming, 21-7 over Mid-Carolina.
Still, head coach Andrew Webb has been as close to wit’s end as Liner, but the Red Devils have been prone to zany antics more often than measures from a stat sheet.
The difference last week was that, for every missed tackle or crucial infraction, the team came up with a big play. An acrobatic end-zone catch by Elijah Campbell. Sam Tiller managing to turn an intended punt into a first down. The Red Devils averted disasters that had previously doomed them.
A disastrous penalty – roughing the punter with Mid-Carolina attempting to do so from its own end zone – led Webb to unintentionally paraphrase what announcer Jack Buck said about a famous World Series home run by Kirk Gibson: “I can’t believe what my eyes just saw.”
In Newberry, Clinton is facing a much-respected coach in Phil Strickland and a team that is coming off a 46-38 victory over Emerald. The Bulldogs fell to Woodruff, 35-21, in their region opener.
Newberry has scored at least three touchdowns in six of its seven games. This is Clinton’s final scheduled road game.
Laurens Academy has won twice, which is one more than each of the past three seasons. The Crusaders do not have a senior, and the roster is thin, even for eight-man football. Most everyone plays both ways, and bigger, deeper teams tend to wear them down.
Such was the case in last week’s 57-18 loss to Richard Winn.
The Crusaders face long odds in Blackville, home of Jefferson Davis Academy. The Knights have a running back, Jimmy Bozard, who is averaging 244.3 yards a game. JDA defeated Winn 38-35. Both schools defeated King, LA by a 36-0 score and JDA 55-8.
Finally, the Blue Hose. No game in this list is as difficult to analyze as the first-ever meeting between Presbyterian and Hampton.
The Pirates are not yet in the Big South. The Blue Hose are not yet out. The opponents have little in common. Last week, while the Football Championship Subdivision’s third (now second) ranked Kennesaw State Owls were shutting out PC 56-0, Hampton was thumping Lane College of Jackson, Tenn., 41-8.
KSU was the Blue Hose’ first Big South opponent. Hampton has played two, falling to Monmouth 56-28 and to Charleston Southern 48-14.
Otherwise, PC has played Austin Peay, Bluefield and Lindsey Wilson. The Pirates have played Shaw, Northern Iowa and Lane.
This game could go either way, based on comparative scores, which never work.