On paper, Friday's regular-season finale between archrivals Laurence Manning Academy and Wilson Hall is a battle between teams headed in different directions.
The Swampcats have won three in a row, including impressive victories the last two weeks at Pinewood Prep and at home on Senior Night against Porter-Gaud, registering more than 45 points in both games. Wilson Hall, decimated by injuries, has lost three straight, giving up an average of 45 points during the stretch.
The Barons, at 5-4 overall and 3-4 in SCISA 3A play, are in sixth place in the conference, while LMA, at 7-2 overall and 4-2 in the conference, is in third place behind Hammond and Ben Lippen. The 'Cats are assured of a home game in the 6-team state playoffs having locked up the No. 3 seed, while Wilson Hall will be on the road in the first round.
All that being said, this is a rivalry game, and the teams will square off on the field instead of on paper at 7:30 p.m. at Wilson Hall's Spencer Field.
Wilson Hall head coach Adam Jarecki, in his third season at the helm, said he will be looking for his players of the future to step into leadership roles on the field.
"We've got to regroup from last week," Jarecki said, referring to his team's 49-14 loss to defending champion Ben Lippen. "We lost a couple of players that are big for us, and we've just got to be able to regroup and overcome that. Some new guys have to step up and accept their roles and kind of pick up where we left off.
"It's no secret I lost Justin Timmons, my leading rusher," Jarecki said of his senior tailback, who suffered a broken leg on the opening drive against Ben Lippen after carrying for close to 700 yards this season. "That's a big one to fill, but we've got a couple more -- we found out that Andrew McCaffrey's out for the year with a knee injury, and Brandon Carraway, my fullback, has a concussion. So we're a little bit behind the eight-ball." The loss of McCaffrey and Carraway represents another 600 yards of ground productivity on the sidelines.
"We've got guys that are going to step up and fill their shoes, and that's what we're going to do," Jarecki said. "We're going to play hard like we always do and hope to get some breaks to go our way and compete as best as we can."
Wilson Hall will have its senior quarterback, Jacob Cotton, calling the signals, and Grayson Sonntag, a dominant lineman on both sides of the line of scrimmage, will return.
Wilson Hall has a chance to grab a No. 5 seed with a victory over LMA. That would make it 4-4 in 3A play while the loser of today's game between Porter-Gaud and Pinewood Prep would be 3-4.
The odd game is because WH defeated Orangeburg Prep, which doesn't play every 3A team. The game counts in the standings for those teams who do play OP, according to SCISA athletic director Mike Fanning.
A Wilson Hall win would send it on the road to face the winner between Pinewood and Porter-Gaud in the first round. A loss would send the Barons to ... Laurence Manning.
For its part, Laurence Manning isn't taking anything for granted.
"We kind of do what we do every week regardless of who we play," said fifth-year LMA head coach Robbie Briggs. "We work hard every week. We've got a lot of respect for their kids and their coaches and the history of their program. This is a big game in that it's our rivalry game.
"Thankfully, over the last few years, we've been able to make it a rivalry. For a period of about 10 years, it was pretty much one-sided, so we are excited about the opportunity of going over there and playing, and we know we're going to get their best shot."
For the Swampcats, quarterback Braydon Osteen and wide receiver Taylor Lee have been putting up big numbers, including Lee's 11 catches for 225 yards and three touchdowns last week, much of it in the first half, as LMA posted a 47-28 victory over Porter-Gaud.
"We've done some good things," Briggs said. "We're starting to play a little bit faster. Defensively, I think we've played really well the last few weeks going back to the Ben Lippen game (a 26-23 loss). We had a couple of guys injured early in the season, but since Ben Lippen and even prior to that, I feel like we've played pretty well."
Briggs said he wasn't worried about complacency with his team.
"It's a matter of personal pride and respecting the game of football," he said. "We quickly forget how they dominated us for about a 10-year period; and these kids, we've made sure we reminded them of the history of the rivalry and the importance of the game.
"We just take it one play at a time and one series at a time," Briggs said. "We practice really hard. Our guys know what our standard is over here, regardless of who we play."