A Gathering of the Dogs

The Dogs from Newberry meet the Dogs from Petticoat Junction in a classic opening match up.

Thirty straight wins, Silver Bluff High School coach Al Lown insists, wasn't as easy as everybody made it out to be.

Well, getting No. 31 might be the toughest yet.

The two-time defending Class AA state champions put their winning streak on the line Friday night at Newberry High School, one of the better Class AAA teams in the state.

"I don't think there's any question we're the underdog. Exactly how much I don't know,'' said Lown, whose team was seemingly decimated by graduation. "All I know is that I'll be surprised if we don't play well. Whatever happens on the scoreboard, our only concern is getting better each week."

Newberry coach Sam Baird isn't buying it despite having 56 players and 30 seniors.

"I would have to say we're the underdog," said Baird, who did lose seven all-region players. "They're coming off two great seasons. Plus, they've got that great tradition. They've still got some players there. They don't ever run out."

Make no doubts about it though, the streak is in real danger against Newberry, which returns a number of players from a team that went 13-1 and advanced to the Lower State finals before losing to eventual champion Camden High School.

Lown's response?

"It was in danger every week last year, so this isn't any different," he said. "We really are not focused on the streak as much as we are just trying to be 1-0 this year."

And Newberry has a history of ending streaks.

Four years ago, Newberry stopped Fairfield-Central High School's 43-game winning streak in its tracks, winning 26-14. But on the other hand, Silver Bluff has a history of taking down much bigger schools.

"They remind me of Fairfield-Central when we played them a couple of years ago," said Lown, who split two meetings with Fairfield-Central during it's glory days.

One neutral observer, Midland Valley High School coach Rick Knight, who was in Newberry's region the last few years thinks this year's Silver Bluff team could hold its own against last year's Newberry.

"I don't think they should be as big an underdog as they are," Knight said, referring to Silver Bluff,  which the Mustangs scrimmaged last week. "People say they are way down but they still look pretty good to me."

While Newberry's reputation has been built on defense — two years ago it's JV team didn't allow a point and blew everybody out — it impresses Lown with the ball on film.

"I tell you, they look good on offense too," Lown said. "They beat Camden in a scrimmage 5-3 and Camden is a preseason No. 1."

The Bulldogs lost 16 starters including their whole backfield, three interior linemen and a defensive leader off last year's team. Those growing pains were evident in a preseason scrimmage with Aiken High School two and a half weeks ago.

"We looked pretty bad," Lown admitted.

Since then, however, the Bulldogs have taken a bite out of everything in their way, including shutout victories over Williston-Elko and Barnwell high schools in jamborees.

"I think we've made a lot of progress from two weeks ago to now," Lown said. "We got better against Williston-Elko (21-0) in the Aiken County Jamboree and looked pretty good against Barnwell (27-0) in the Region 5-AA jamboree."

Newberry is led offensively by Antonio Smith, who moves from wide receiver to wing back to touch the ball more. He had 11 catches for 207 yards and seven touchdowns. He also returned four punts for touchdowns. "He's still learning, but he's our game breaker," Baird said.

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