There has been a little bit more buzz in the Sumter High School football team's locker room this week - and for good reason. The Gamecocks are playing host to Conway today at 7:30 p.m. with the Region VI-5A title on the line.
"Yeah, we've just been sitting here talking about this game and what it means," said SHS senior linebacker Cooper Mota on Wednesday during a break in a weightlifting session. "This is for the region championship."
This is the game that most people thought would be for the Region VI title when fall practice started in August. The Gamecocks and the Tigers have been ranked in the S.C. Prep Media Football Poll all season with Sumter currently No. 6 and CHS No. 7.
Both teams are 7-1 overall and 3-0 in region play. The Gamecocks lost to Spring Valley 51-34, while Conway lost to Myrtle Beach 13-12.
If Sumter wins, it will secure at least a share of the region title and the region's No. 1 seed in the state playoffs.
Should Conway win, there could still be a backdoor chance of a 3-way tie, but the Tigers would more than likely earn the No. 1 seed.
SHS quarterback Zykiem Jackson said that while the Tigers have been the Gamecocks' focus this week, the game didn't come on to their radar until this week.
"We're just taking it one game at a time," said Jackson, who is looking to lead Sumter to three straight undefeated region titles. "Me personally, every game is just a game. We prepare to win each game."
Conway has roiled up three big region wins so far, beating West Florence 35-7, Socastee 50-28 and South Florence 62-14.
CHS has a balanced offensive attack, rushing for 198 yards a game and passing for 185 yards.
Quarterback Darren Grainger has completed 81 of 151 passes for 1,483 yards and 13 touchdowns against just three interceptions. He's also run for 317 yards and two scores on 61 carries.
Antonio Long, a 6-foot-2-inch, 205-pound senior running back, leads Conway in rushing with 612 yards and nine scores on 108 carries. Sophomore Tate Finklea has rushed for 251 yards and four scores on 55 carries.
Conway has two Shrine Bowl offensive linemen in Gunner Britton and Raiqwon O'Neal.
"They really run the ball a lot," said SHS cornerback Melvin Lundy. "They've got the big running back and they run with the quarterback a lot. They do make some deep throws.
"I feel like we've got a pretty good plan for them on defense."
Conway has two receivers averaging over 20 yards a catch. Juwan Moody has 24 catches for 590 yards - 24.6 yards a catch - and eight TDs. Willie Brantley has 20 catches for 418 yards and two scores, a 20.9 average,
Sumter's offense revolves around Jackson. He's rushed for 781 yards and three TDs on 115 carries while completing 75 of 127 passes for 1,003 yards and 11 TDs against four interceptions.
Jonathan Henry has rushed for 566 yards and seven scores on 91 carries, while Da'jon Butts has 361 yards and 11 TDs on 48 carries.
Jalen Rouse is the leading receiver with 32 catches for 369 yards and four scores. Anthony Dinkins-McCall has come on of late, now with 18 catches for 371 yards and three TDs.