And then there were four…

THE SET-UP Now it gets serious. The third round of the playoffs always seems to be the focal point of any team's playoff run: it means you've won two to get here and with one more win, you've punched your ticket to the state semifinals with Williams-Brice stadium on the direct horizon.


In the Lower State of AAA football, the combatants left are Camden (11-1), Dillon (10-2), Wilson (8-4) and North Myrtle Beach (9-3). Going into the season, conventional wisdom said the first three teams on that list would battle it out to see who would represent the Lower State in Columbia.  Well, here they are along with a dark horse, the Chiefs of North Myrtle Beach.



The Camden Bulldogs romped to a 15-0 record last season en route to the school's 7th state championship. Along they way, they dispatched both Wilson and Dillon in the Lower State playoffs.  The Wilson game will always be remembered as the "Miracle on South Broad Street", as Kelvin Grant returned Tiger kickoff 88-yards on the game's last play to win it for CHS 19-17. The very next week, the Bulldog defense and kicking game knocked out an undefeated Dillon squad 18-6.  This year, Camden has beaten Holly Hill-Roberts and Myrtle Beach to reach this point.


After struggling in recent years, the Chiefs have turned things around this season; winning 9 of 12 games and their last five in a row.  Last week, NMB intercepted 6 Timberland passes on their way to a 33-13 road victory.  Meanwhile, Wilson has kept rest areas, bus drivers and map-makers busy this postseason, first winning at Manning, then at Midland Valley.  Dillon, with the home field advantage throughout the Lower State playoffs, has beaten Brookland-Cayce and West Florence.



Friday night's match ups are nothing if not intriguing.  Both feature a running team versus a passing team. Wilson, as a #4 seed, is on the road again at Dillon while Camden hosts North Myrtle Beach.  The Wilson-Dillon game will be a rematch of the September 27 overtime tilt at Florence Memorial Stadium. The Tigers won that one 24-21, aided by six Wildcat turnovers.  The big question here is whether Dillon's running game with Raleigh Singletary and a powerful offensive line can keep the ball away from Wilson's Tyrell Solomon and his talented group of receivers, including Waleed Rushdan and Lawrence Timmons. 


For Dillon to win, they simply cannot turn the ball over as they did the first time around. Controlling the clock with Singletary is crucial. The Wilson offense operates by spreading the field, completing the intermediate timing routes, then when something opens up down the field, taking the shot at the end zone.  Dane Hamrick is a dangerous weapon in the running game.  The Tigers seem to hitting their stride right now and this should be another barn-burner.


At Zemp Stadium in Camden, the Bulldogs will host the Chiefs in the first-ever meeting between these two schools.  The Chiefs will operate primarily from the Wing-T offense, with Stephon Gore and Trenton Black carrying the load.  Defensively is where NMB impressive, as their secondary is very adept at forcing turnovers (as evidenced against Timberland).  However, they have not seen anything resembling the high-powered downfield passing attack like the one they're going to see against Camden.


Shrine Bowl selection Eric McCollom has thrown for nearly 3,000 yards and 34 TD's in 2002, and has a stable of talented receivers at his disposal. Randy Hooks is averaging just over 100 yards per game on the ground, while the CHS defense has allowed just 7 points in the last three games.


For the Chiefs to have a chance, they must shorten this game with ball-control and hope for several CHS turnovers. They must not abandon their game plan of controlling the football and they absolutely cannot panic in the face of quick score or two. The key to Camden's success is what it has been all year long: devastate opponents with big-plays while at the same time keeping them out of the end zone.  Against Myrtle Beach last week, Camden led 7-0 with 6:37 left before halftime. When the teams headed for their respective locker rooms, it was 35-0. Ouch.



On Saturday morning, the two survivors will begin preparing to take that final step which leads to South Carolina high school football's Promised Land, Williams-Brice Stadium.

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