The first time Laurence Manning Academy and Hammond met on the football field, the Skyhawks came away with a 35-21 victory. However, it wasn't really that close.
LMA trailed 21-0 at halftime and fell behind 28-0 in the second half before finally denting the scoreboard. The Swampcats could never get any closer than 14 points.
The teams will meet one more time, this time with the SCISA 3A state title on the line. Laurence Manning wide receiver Taylor Lee knows what has to happen for him and his teammates to come away with a state title on Saturday in the 7:30 p.m. contest at Benedict College's Charlie W. Johnson Stadium in Columbia.
"We have to get off to a better start than we did the last game," Lee said. "For whatever reason, we got off to a very slow start and it took us a while before we finally got things going. We need to score a couple of times early."
The first game was almost three months ago on Sept. 1. It was the third game of the season for LMA, having outscored Bethesda Academy and Florence Christian School by a combined 126-9 in the first two contests. Hammond, the perennial 3A power, had just one game under its belt, a 41-15 victory over Spartanburg Christian.
"I feel like we're a better team now," Lee said of the Swampcats, who are 10-2 on the season. "I think we're clicking better on both offense and defense."
The only problem is 11-0 Hammond has been clicking on all cylinders the entire season. The Skyhawks' final margin of victory against the Swampcats is their closest of the season. They beat defending state champion Ben Lippen 35-20 and has topped everyone else by at least 26 points.
"They are so clean on offense," Laurence Manning head coach Robbie Briggs said of Hammond, which has outscored its opponents 498-149. "Defensively, they play very fast. They are sound in the secondary. There are really no glaring weaknesses."
Hammond is back in the championship game after having a string of 10 consecutive appearances snapped last season. The Skyhawks will be going for their ninth title under head coach Erik Kimrey, who took over the program in 2004.
Quarterback Corbett Glick makes the Hammond offense go. He has completed 172 of 242 passes for 2,976 yards and 35 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions. His favorite target is Lucas Prickett, who has 66 catches for 1,289 yards and 15 TDs. Andre Wilson has 47 receptions for 744 yards and five more scores.
The Skyhawks have three running backs with at least 400 yards rushing. Michael Schraibman has 501 yards and one touchdown, Wilson has 445 yards and four TDs and Hal Crosswell has 42 yards and five scores.
Jordan Burch only has 33 carries but 12 touchdowns.
"It's hard to take away players offensively," said LMA linebacker Brad Goodson. "You've got to be ready for anything. Their coach is really good; they can check in and out of everything. Our defense is going to have to play a really good game."
Goodson, who transferred to LMA from Wilson Hall, is excited to have the chance to play in a title game. His brother, Jay, played in two championship games for the Barons, winning the title in 2013.
"I really have a great feeling about it," said Goodson, who leads LMA in tackles for loss with 23 and four recovered fumbles.
Lee is the catalyst of the LMA offense with 67 catches for 1,156 yards and 20 touchdowns. He has had two quarterbacks throwing it his way this season, Braydon Osteen and Burgess Jordan.
Osteen has completed 95 of 192 passes for 1,436 yards and 22 touchdowns while running for 284 yards and five TDs on 76 carries. He also has a 12-yard TD reception.
Jordan has completed 26 of 50 passes for 498 yards and four scores, but has rushed for 485 yards and nine touchdowns on 118 carries. He has seven catches for 100 yards.
"It's really kind of worked out well for us," Briggs said of the dual quarterbacks. "They have both gotten better at what we want them to do as the year has gone on. There is a lot of unselfishness on their parts. They are willing to do whatever we ask them to do. They just want to win."
Hammond comes into the game off a 42-14 thumping of Porter-Gaud. LMA held on to end Ben Lippen's reign with a 43-40 victory. It was the third straight close game for the Swampcats. They beat Wilson Hall 14-13 on the last play of the game in the regular-season finale and then topped the Barons 20-14 in overtime in the first round of the playoffs.
"Having three close games in a row, I think that's a benefit for us," Briggs said. "I think it lets our players know that we can make the plays we need to to win games."