Saturday Night 8:00PM. Two of the top programs in the state match up once again in what hopefully will be a replay of last year's fantastic and heart stopping state title game.
Some four months ago every football Coach and team had dreams of being the 2002 State Football Champion. As the season grew longer some surprise teams such as Greenville and Pickens were in the running and many thought they would be in Columbia on December 7th. Some teams that many people did not count on making a run were still in it late in the playoffs such as Lugoff Elgin and Broome.
Through it all two teams emerged with their tickets punched for the December 7th title game. The two teams are none other than Camden and Union. This will set up the much anticipated "REMATCH" from last years AAA title game in which Camden defeated Union 24-21 in Overtime.
Camden and Union got off to two very different starts to the 2002 season. Camden was riddled with 2nd half turnovers and lost their halftime lead and the game 23-20 at AAAA Sumter. Meanwhile Union was doing their best to get a win over AAAA Spartanburg on the road. Union had a rough start and did not play a great game but still found a way to come out with a 24-21 win over the Vikings.
When many see that score they think man, Union ended the 2001 season with a loss to Camden 24-21 in the State Championship game and they begin the 2002 season with a 24-21 victory over Spartanburg. I can only imagine that it gave them a ton of confidence and a way to let go of that early December defeat a year earlier. Well you would think that at least. Union has gone through this season with one thing on their mind and that was a return trip back to Columbia for the AAA title game. That feat has been accomplished now for the 4th straight years. They wanted no one other than the Camden Bulldogs to get back as well to prove they could take the Dogs down in defeat.
Union's trip has been a very good one so far except for the one down point of their season. A trip to Newberry in the middle of the season would prove they could be beat. I was there at that game and most will agree with me that the 22-14 loss was not a Union like game.
Since that loss Union has done nothing but better themselves and have done it with a surprise player. QB Justin Knox stepped in this year for the Yellow Jackets and has done an outstanding job for his team. After losing Josh Harris there was a big question and it was who would fill the void after losing such a special player. Union lost key players at other positions but no one bigger than at the QB spot. Justin had a slow start to the season and questions were around that they did not know if Union would be back in Columbia.
But this Junior QB in his first year as a starter has done wonders for this team. One thing that has helped Union is his ability to tuck the ball and run. I feel that is where they are better this year than they were last year. Knox will look to pass but once he feels no one is open he takes off and has done an excellent job at it. Justin has a great offensive line led by Eric Young, 3 excellent WR's that catch the ball and hold on after taking the big hits, and a duo at RB to compliment his own running ability.
Union has one thing that everyone in the state will agree on, a very good defense. They have excellent team speed on that defense. One thing that really stands out is their DB's. I feel that they are the fastest DB's in AAA football. I don't think many teams took many chances on throwing deep on them and if they did well the INT's that this group has produced will make you think twice before doing that.
Other players that will be a huge force for the Yellow Jacket Defense are Curtis Rice and Jay Baylor. When it comes to Camden all people can talk about is their high powered offense. It boast a QB that has passed for more than 3,000 yards and is one TD pass shy of tying the State Record (41) set by Kentrell Jones of Gaffney in 1997. It has three WR's who all but one is over 1,000 yards receiving on the season and that one needs less than 50 yards and he will break 1,000 yards on the season.
Hooks is more of a FB type. He stepped in and has had a wonderful season and should break 1,500 yards on the season in his first couple of carries on Saturday. The Offensive Line has been a wonderful treat after some key losses last year. They have played very well and have done even better at Run Blocking than many thought they could.
Camden's Defense is a lot like Union's. They fly to the ball with great team speed. They have an overall great Defense just like the Bulldogs. I think one pleasant surprise this year has been the DB's. Now that the season is at the end only one returner from last year is still there and Safety Renaldo Gaskins playing Free Safety. ThSafety of returning starting Strong Saftey Dujuan Council to an season ending knee injury left many questions this season.
With the services of Matt Nettles, Shamar Byrd, J.R. Carter, and Darius Hood the DB's look almost as strong as last year. Charles King will team up with Jarrett Wiggins to hold the ends down. The LB's are lead by Ron McKie. He has two very good LB's flanking him also in Leroy Bracey and Brian Williams. The defensive line is powered by Tony Buie and Jonathan Woodley.
Special teams could be very special for both Camden and Union. The two names that could match-up and be a huge part in the outcome of Saturday's match up will be the two kickers. For Union it is Nick Maness and for Camden it is Jake Broom. These two guys could have the game riding on their shoes before it is all over with.
I think one thing that has to be looked at is the coaching staffs. Coach Mike Anthony for Union and Camden's Jimmy Neal have done a wonderful job with both their teams this year. They both have wonderful coaching staffs to compliment them. What a wonderful job both have done, and both schools, fans, and communities should be very proud of the ob their respective coach's have done.
In closing, I think this game will come down to who makes the fewest mistakes or you can say which defense causes the most mistakes. I like to think of it as the defense causing the most mistakes. With both teams having great defense's this will be where the battle is won.
It will be very interesting to watch Camden wide receiver vs Union's DB's, and vice versa. It will be even more interesting to see if Knox can run on that Camden Defense. But in all of that it could come down to whose kicker has the nerve to step up and kick the big one. These two teams will line it up on Saturday night at the "BIG HOUSE" and produce on the field. Win or lose both teams can be proud of the season's they have produced and know that both programs are going in the right direction with great coach's to lead them. It will be one for the ages and one that no one will forget for some time to come. Best of luck to both the Bulldogs and the Yellow Jackets and may there be no serious injuries. Once again, until Saturday night at we can only dream of what might happen.