Monday, August 19, 2013

My Top 10 Lowcountry games of the year

Hard to believe, but high school football is already here. Porter-Gaud hosts Palmetto Christian tonight (Tuesday), in what will be the first regular-season game played in SC this year. Sertoma starts this Thursday, just a few days away. The Post and Courier along with our local TV stations have already started the countdown with previews from many of the local high schools.

In Sunday's Post and Courier, Phil Bowman had a preview of the top 10 players in the Lowcountry (led by Stratford QB Jacob Park), and there was a preview of the two local 4A regions, Region 7-4A and Region 8-4A.

The games are what make high school football popular here. There's so many wonderful rivalries in the Lowcountry that often get overlooked in the state of South Carolina. You have Summerville/Goose Creek, Summerville/Stratford, Goose Creek/Stratford, James Island/Wando, Bishop England/Porter-Gaud, James Island/West Ashley, Fort Dorchester/Summerville, and even some in the private school ranks, with James Island Christian playing First Baptist this year, an all James Island game.

The season will be an interesting one in the Lowcountry. I will predict what I feel the top ten games will be in the Lowcountry for the season. This is as of August 19.

10. James Island at Wando, August 24. Wando starts the season off, with a new QB, replacing several of their skill players (including their best TE, Taylor Kimball, and their kicker). They have a lineman, Nolan Kelleher, committed to Florida.

They will face a game James Island team. They were 4-6 last season, but hope to improve in 3A this season. This game will be a good litmus test for a Wando team having to replace several key parts. Last year's game at James Island was decided by a two-point conversion. Wando escaped with a one-point win. As one of the few games that count in Week 0, this will be an important battle.

9. Woodland at Bishop England, October 25. This game could very well be for their region's title in 2A. Bishop England is replacing a lot of their talent from their back to back state championship team, but don't sleep on the Bishops. With Coach John Cantey at the helm, he has taken what was an average team for several seasons and quickly made it into one of the powers of 2A.

Even with Bishop England sort of rebuilding, those two schools probably will be the class of Region 6-2A. This will be the most important game of the year for that region.

8. Porter-Gaud at Hammond, October 4. In the SCISA race, this will look to be a big game. Hammond has been one of the best football schools in the state in the past few years, private or public, with Coach Erik Kimrey. Hammond won six consecutive SCISA titles in their class until last year's loss to Augusta Christian. Porter-Gaud has improved under Coach Rick Reetz; getting a new transfer QB from Ashley Ridge will help improve their offense.

7. Bluffton at Beaufort, October 11. We'll find out quickly in the first region game how well Beaufort acclimates to their region. Bluffton is known across the state as a team that likes to run up the score. Last season, they were perfect at home but lost three times on the road. One of those was to Goose Creek, who had their win erased because of the eligibility scandal. This year, Bluffton's region play starts with a trip to their biggest region rival.

6. Summerville at Fort Dorchester, October 11. After Summerville gets through the Stratford game, Fort Dorchester in North Charleston is there. Summerville started off very slow last season, losing to Cane Bay in the opener, and going 2-4 in their first six games, but swept through their region to finish the regular season 7-4 and win the Region 8-4A title. It all starts with the Patriots. The Patriots look to be a better team than last season, but Coach Steve LaPrad needs to improve his overall record. He hasn't won more than 7 since 2009.

This is an important game for Summerville; as their first region game, this will be very important if they want to win another region title. With the game at the Fort, their crowd will be pumped up to host John McKissick and the Green Wave. Fort Dorchester is hoping for their first win since 2001 in this rivalry, when most of the seniors on the team were in kindergarten.

5. Wando at Stratford, October 18. This looks to be a very important game in the Region 7-4A race. Stratford goes to Cane Bay the previous week, while Wando has West Ashley to start off their region play. Being the second game of region play will make it very important. Teams only have five chances to test their mettle in 7-4A, and one slip-up, with Goose Creek in the wings, will likely kick the loser out of the region race.

4. Berkeley at Stratford, August 30. This game, already named Channel 5's game of the week for the first full weekend of the season, looks very interesting. Coach Jeff Cruce is headed into a very important year at Berkeley. The last two seasons, he has had losing years. His team had to beat Hilton Head last year on the final weekend of the season just to guarantee a playoff berth. They lost four times at home last year. With a lot of seniors on this year's team (the most since the '09 state championship team), this year will be very important.

Stratford is heading back into the renaissance that it was in back in the 1990s. In any other area of the country, Ray Stackley would be the dean of high school football coaches. But in the Lowcountry, he's a distant 2nd behind John McKissick. QB Jacob Park has become of the best QBs in the nation. I've seen him since his freshman year back in 2010, and he's steadily improved each year. They also have some of the best skill players in the Lowcountry. This will be an interesting year for the Knights.

3. Summerville at Stratford, October 4. Sorry for all the mentions of Summerville, Stratford, and Goose Creek, but these schools are probably the three most talented in Lowcountry football. This game, the last before Summerville and Stratford head into region play. This game will be important with a battle of top QBs, between Bridges and Park. Whoever wins this battle will gain a lot of momentum headed into region play.

2. Goose Creek at Summerville, September 13. The biggest game of the early season in the Lowcountry. Probably two of three best teams in the area. This will be the Gators second road game of the year, after they start the year at Ashley Ridge, and host Colleton County. QB Dantez Bennamon will have to get his players up for this one. Summerville's stadium will be hopping for this game, as this has become one of the biggest rivalries in the Lowcountry in the past few seasons.

Last year, the Gators blew Summerville out, and in 2011, they escaped with a 19-7 win which was the impetus that led them to their first state championship. With Summerville more experienced in 2013, and a sophomore QB, Sawyer Bridges already committed to Clemson for baseball, they could give Goose Creek one of their toughest games of the year.

1. Goose Creek at Stratford, November 8. This game has almost everything set up around it. A battle of Goose Creek, the final week of the season, and a game that will likely decide the Region 7-4A championship. Last year, Goose Creek's road game at Wando had a large amount of hype. This game though could greatly exceed it.

If both teams get through their gauntlet without a slip-up (anything can happen in HS football) the hype could reach epic proportions. Both Clemson and South Carolina are off that weekend, and The Citadel is on the road. If that happens, this could be the biggest football game of the weekend in SC, not just HS football. You've got a battle of great offenses, and Stratford looks to be the team to dethrone the Gators.

They are the most likely team to beat Goose Creek because of their QB, and the home field advantage that Stratford's fans have will give the Knights a good shot.

Honorable mention: Cross-St. John's (The Islanders have hired a former Goose Creek assistant, and Cross won a state title last year); Cross-Baptist Hill (Cross gets their two toughest games on road); Battery Creek-Woodland (Battery Creek is a sneaky team in their 2A region); Woodland-Colleton County (how will the Cougars show in their first game hoping to break a three-year losing streak?). Other games will also be here.

The season will stretch longer this year. Everyone will play into November, with the final week of regular season for almost everyone Nov. 1. The 4A schools will play regular season games after Daylight Savings Time ends, with their final regular season game Nov. 8.

Enjoy the season! I will be back with frequent posts during the year.

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