The same throwing hand which lifted Orangeburg-Wilkinson to an important overtime homecoming victory last Friday will now keep senior quarterback Russell Hemby on the sidelines during a critical two-game engagement in Lexington County.
Hemby was diagnosed with a chipped bone in his right finger a day after he accidentally struck it against a teammate's helmet during Tuesday's practice, according to O-W head football coach Tommy Brown. The injury will more than likely keep The T&D Region's leading passer out of action for O-W's Friday contest against White Knoll and the following week against archrival Lexington, both taking place at Lexington District I Stadium.
In seven games, Hemby has thrown for 1,526 yards on 78-141 attempts for 11 TDs and just three interceptions. With O-W trailing Aiken 17-14 in overtime, Hemby had perhaps his most clutch performance in his two seasons as a starter when he connected with Chris Haskell on third-down play for a 14-yard touchdown to clinch a 20-17 victory.
The dramatic win over the opponent which had defeated them four straight times probably explained why there were no clouds of self-doubt and self-pity around Bruin camp on Wednesday with the news of Hemby's injury. In fact, Brown believes the team will not miss a beat with backup Brandon Benjamin at the helm this Friday against the Timberwolves.
Benjamin started in O-W's season-opening loss to Edisto at Oliver C. Dawson Bulldog Stadium following a strong performance in a preseason scrimmage against Fairfield Central. What the 5-9, 160-pound junior lacks in game experience, he makes up for in raw talent both throwing and running the football.
"We'll probably look to run a little bit more option, but we're still going to throw the ball when we need to and want to," Brown said. "Brandon is a little bit quicker, and hopefully we'll be able to take advantage of his skills."
White Knoll head coach Mark Cagle is quite familiar with O-W, having spent four seasons (1996-99) as the defensive coordinator at Lexington. He said Wednesday the Timberwolves' defensive gameplan will not change with Benjamin taking the snaps and their goal is to try to keep the game close headed into the fourth quarter.
"They've got great personnel and we're going to load up and try to stop the run and control their passing game" said Cagle, who played defensive end at Furman from 1983-86 and was a graduate assistant on the Paladins' 1988 Division I-AA national championship team, about O-W.
Friday is the first-ever meeting between O-W (4-3, 1-1) and White Knoll, two of four teams tied for second in Region 4-AAA. Following Friday's 30-7 home loss to North Augusta, the Timberwolves are 2-6 overall and 1-1 in Region 4-AAAA in their first season on the Class 4-A level.
This is also the second "Bruin" opponent this season for the Timberwolves, who opened play in 2002 with a 12-6 loss to South Florence in which they allowed 239 rushing yards and committed three turnovers. However, White Knoll's lone region win came Oct. 11 in a 10-0 shutout at Aiken as senior defensive backs Brandon Anderson, who had 16 tackles, and Nick Oshia, who amassed 14 tackles, sparked a defensive effort which held the Fighting Green Hornets to 180 total yards.
White Knoll's other win came over Airport on Sept. 13 by a 30-8 score. Despite amassing a season-best 365 yards against the Eagles, it was the Timberwolves' performance against Aiken which really gained Brown's attention.
"They did a great job against Aiken in slowing the game, controlling the tempo, and they're going to probably do the same thing -- try to keep it out of our hands as much as possible. They're a better team than their record shows, so we'll be in for a tough battle."
A victory for the Bruins on "Senior Recognition Night" for White Knoll would mean an even tougher and bigger battle in the same stadium the following week against the more established and longer residing tenants of Wildcat Hallow in Lexington High School. It's a challenge Brown said his team must be ready to take if they are have a shot at the region title.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Lexington District I stadium.