Gaffney (7-4) at Northwestern (7-4)
Last week: Gaffney beat Easley 33-14; Northwestern beat Laurens 58-7
Last meeting: Northwestern won 17-13 (2017)
Winner faces: the winner of Hillcrest-Spartanburg in the 5A Upper State third round
Key players: GHS - Sr. WR Dennis Smith, Sr. ATH Cameron Rice, Soph. LB Shannon Rodgers. NHS - Sr. DL Areon Walls, Sr. LB Caleb Ross, Sr. WR Jordan Starkes.
Need to know: Dan Jones’ Gaffney teams (since 2009) are 42-15 in the months of October, November and December, and this year’s Indians are no exception. Gaffney has won four straight games headed into Friday’s contest in Rock Hill.
“We all know that Gaffney plays better in November,” said Northwestern receiver Jordan Starkes. “We’re just gonna have to come out and do the little things right. We had a lot of third downs last game that we couldn’t convert.”
Starkes referred to the Trojans’ regular season win over Gaffney, in which Northwestern grew a 17-0 lead then held on as it shriveled in the second half of a 17-13 win. Friday will be the old rivals’ ninth time playing in the playoffs after playing in the regular season; in the eight previous occasions the team that won the regular season meeting lost in the playoffs.
Gaffney has held three of its last four opponents under 100 yards rushing. Will that stat matter against Northwestern, which has turned its back to a degree on the run game in the second half of the season? It will if Starkes and Jamario Holley don’t have big games for the third straight week.
“We’ve just got to stick together and do the little things,” said Starkes. “Be smart with the ball and don’t try to do too much with it. Just keep chugging on and trusting each other.”
Holley has been nearly unstoppable the second part of the season, while Starkes has shaken off some nagging injuries to play well recently. He was involved with four touchdowns last week, threw a 53-yard pass and handled punting duties.
“I just went unconscious honestly,” said Starkes, grinning. “Unconscious in a good way.”
York (9-2) at Greenville (10-1)
Last week: York beat Airport 55-14; Greenville beat 64-18
Last meeting: never played
Winner faces: the winner of Greer-South Aiken in the 4A Upper State third round
Key players: YCHS - Jr. ATH Ladarius Allison, Jr. DB Max Necklen, Sr. DB Tahj Reid-Stanley. GHS - Sr. WR Ty Hellams, Sr. RB Danyaus Williams-Byrd, Sr. LB Kade Clardy.
Need to know: Greenville, whose only loss was to undefeated 5A T.L. Hanna, represents a very stiff challenge for York. But the reverse can be said about the Cougars, who are running the ball with real power and success in recent games thanks to J.T. Sanders’ full-time switch to running back and an offensive line that’s hitting its stride. Bobby Carroll’s team will be eager to avoid a shootout with the Red Raiders and their college prospect QB Davis Beville. York should be able to put together some prolonged offensive drives; the Cougars have to finish them with points, though, which has been an issue at times this season.
Belton-Honea Path (9-2) at South Pointe (11-0)
Last week: Belton-Honea Path beat Union County 24-21; South Pointe beat Midland Valley 67-14
Last meeting: South Pointe won 35-7 (2016 playoffs)
Winner faces: the winner of Westwood-Eastside in the 4A Upper State third round
Key players: BHP - Sr. DL Austin Daniel, Sr. DB Dashon Stribling, Soph. RB R.J. Ellis. SPHS - Sr. OL Jaydon Collins, Sr. ATH Steven Gilmore Jr., Sr. LB Deangelo Huskey.
Need to know: last year’s meeting between these two teams in the 4A playoffs created some bad blood so it’ll be key for South Pointe to keep its cool Friday night at home. Last year’s game also featured a very slow first half for the Stallions, in which they were held scoreless. If the defending state champs can get off to a decent start like they have the last month or so, they should be headed to the third round. Belton-Honea Path can’t match the Stallions’ dynamism and it seems inevitable that the hosts will break some big plays against the Bears.
Chester (9-2) at Chapman (11-0)
Last week: Chester beat Powdersville 61-28; Chapman beat Crescent 57-13
Last meeting: Chester won 38-32 (2013)
Winner faces: the winner of Seneca-Palmetto in the 3A Upper State third round
Key players: Chester - Sr. DB/WR Quay Hardin, Jr. RB Pha’Leak Brown, Soph. OL Daniel Elkins. Chapman - Sr. LB Nate Jackson, Sr. QB Colton Bailey, Sr. RB D.J. Twitty.
Need to know: No. 1-ranked and defending 3A champion Chapman’s explosive offense gets much of the attention but the Panthers are a very balanced and talented team in all phases of the game. Chapman is a decent pass-rushing team (29 sacks), which could cause problems for the Cyclones. Chester’s worst games for penalties have come against strong and physical defensive fronts (think 20 flags in loss to Fairfield Central). That said, this is a better matchup for Chester than Newberry and its smashmouth power would have been, had the Cyclones won Region 4-3A. Friday’s game against Chapman could resemble a 7-on-7 scrimmage, a style that will better suit Victor Floyd’s athletic and skilled bunch.
Lewisville (8-3) at McCormick (6-4)
Last week: Lewisville beat Wagener-Salley 31-2; McCormick had a first round bye
Last meeting: Lewisville won 42-14 (2016 playoffs)
Winner faces: the winner of Timmonsville-Ridge Spring-Monetta in the 1A Upper State third round
Key players: LHS - Sr. WR Johnny Courtney, Sr. DL Josh Belk, Sr. ATH Mikial Fourney. MHS - Sr. RB/LB Mataeo Durant, Jr. RB/CB Silas Cannady, Sr. LB Kadarius Garrett.
Need to know: McCormick is as close as it gets to a one-man show. The Chiefs have arguably the best player in 1A football in Duke-bound Mataeo Durant, and not much else. Slowing Durant will be the Lions’ chief obligation Friday in the second round of the 1A football playoffs. Word was Durant had been a bit banged up by the end of the regular season but McCormick’s first round bye should have helped that situation. Lewisville shut out Wagener-Salley’s offense last week; McCormick has scored just 36 points total in its last three games, so the Lions should have an opportunity to put up another game-winning defensive performance.