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Friday's high school football opener between Scott's Branch and Manning will be a battle of veteran coaches in new places.
The Eagles will travel to Ramsey Stadium to take on Manning in their annual battle for Clarendon County bragging rights.
Leonard Johnson is back at the helm for Scott's Branch after a 6-year absence, and Reggie Kennedy will lead the Monarchs for the first time after spending the past five years at Irmo. Kennedy played football at East Clarendon, the other Clarendon County SCHSL school, winning a 1A state championship in 1985.
Manning has dominated the series between the two schools, winning all 19 recorded contests. The Monarchs had a 28-0 lead last season with 2:41 remaining in the first half before a thunderstorm ultimately cancelled the remainder of the game. Manning has outscored the Eagles 151-18 in their last five meetings.
Johnson brings with him his trademark Hammer offensive system that helped the Eagles win 1A Division II state championships in 2008 and 2010. After a 6-year absence, and a season that saw several seniors graduate, he's essentially trying to re-build the program from scratch. That's nothing new to Johnson whose first tour with the Eagles started in the midst of a 32-game losing streak. Two years later he won a state championship.
"This isn't about one game," said Johnson. "This is about a program, and setting the groundwork for the program for years to come."
Meanwhile, Manning has been the picture of consistency, finishing 7-4 before losing in the first round of the 3A playoffs in each of the past three seasons. Kennedy has been brought in to take the Monarchs deeper into the postseason. That means winning the games they're expected to win, like Friday night's matchup against a 1A opponent.
"Manning is going to have to stop the Hammer," said Johnson. "That's who we are. It's no secret what we're going to do. If they can't stop it, we'll have a chance. If they do stop it, it could be a long night."
The key for Manning will be to focus on Scott's Branch and not make the mistake of looking ahead to their games against Wilson and Lakewood; both games they lost last year.
For Scott's Branch, tonight's game is about testing the mettle of the young roster.
"Nobody has gotten hit yet," said Johnson. "This week is about coming out, playing hard, and improving."
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