The wait has come to an end.
After a long and spectacular season, the Laurence Manning Academy football team is about to play for the SCISA 3A state championship, and they'll do so against a team that's no stranger to the big game.
This item is available in full to subscribers
Click here to log in
If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.
If you aren't yet a subscriber,
click here to start a new subscription.
The Swampcats will face off against Hammond, which has won the last two state championships, bringing head coach Erik Kimery's total to 10.
The game will be played on Friday at 7 p.m. at Benedict College's Charlie W. Johnson Stadium in Columbia. The game was originally scheduled to be played on Saturday at the same site, but was moved due to the likelihood of inclement weather.
This LMA senior class is also very familiar with these Skyhawks, as the Swampcats lost to Hammond 49-7 in the 2017 title game in its sophomore year. Senior running back Wyatt Rowland is thrilled his team earned the opportunity to get the chance to possibly exact a little bit of revenge before the seniors end their high school careers.
"It's really special. Not every team is guaranteed to play in a state championship game and our senior class was fortunate enough to be in a second," said Rowland. "You never want to take things for granted, and we're going to put our bodies on the barbed wire for sure, because this will be our last one (game). Hopefully we can come out with the win."
Hammond has been dominant this season and provided the Swampcats with their lone loss back in mid-October. The Skyhawks took the first matchup 49-7, and while Hammond has done that to teams all season, LMA felt it didn't play its best football.
"I want us to play well. We did not play well at times against them during the first game," said head coach Austin Floyd. "A lot of that is due to stuff they did. They caused havoc and they're well coached and if our guys aren't doing their job, they're going to take advantage of it. We did not execute at times offensively or defensively. We created turnovers, we moved the ball in spurts, but we couldn't do it consistently."
Senior lineman Van Gardner added, "We're working on some new offensive things, but we just didn't execute the first time we played them. We had some plays that we could've made (the first game), and we're going to do our best."
Gardner and his fellow linemen have the toughest task of the day, and that's attempting to slow down two of the top recruits in the state, one of them in the country.
Jordan Burch, who is rated the No. 2 overall prospect in the country, and Alex Huntley are both in the top five in the state for the 2020 recruiting class, and they have wreaked havoc all season long. Burch has 18 tackles for a loss and nine quarterback sacks this season, while Huntley added 20 more TFLs and four sacks.
During the first matchup, LMA did what it could to double-team both of the Hammond stars and try and make the Hammond linebackers beat them. That didn't quite work as planned though, so Floyd is changing the approach up front this time around.
"Last time, we really focused on double-teaming their two big guys, Burch and Huntley. They have a little linebacker, (William) Locke. He's no bigger that Wyatt Rowland, and I think he had 22 tackles or something like that," said Floyd. "We were focusing so much on taking care of the defensive line, that their linebackers were just roaming free. I kinda told myself that we were going to make (Locke) and the other linebacker beat us and they did. We're going to make some adjustments and fix it to try to give ourselves the best chance to win."
Winning the line of scrimmage is crucial for the Swampcats, because they have been electric on the ground all season. Rowland has rushed for 1,341 yards, gaining 10 yards a carry, while finding the end zone 13 times on the ground. He added another 818 yards and eight touchdowns receiving for 2,159 total yards on the season.
LMA also got 561 yards and nine scores on the ground from Trey Sharpe to go along with 523 yards and six touchdowns from Nolan Osteen. Burgess Jordan runs the offense at quarterback and has thrown for 1,201 yards and 13 touchdowns, while rushing for six more touchdowns.
If LMA wants its offense to move, it will have to run the football, which means winning at the line of scrimmage.
On the other side of the ball, Hammond has an explosive offense. Jackson Muschamp, son of South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp, has thrown for 1,785 yards and 25 touchdowns. CJ Stokes leads the running game, carrying the ball 94 times for 871 yards and 11 scores. Burch also lines up as a wildcat quarterback and has rushed for 488 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season. Muschamp added another 311 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
LMA is going to take the same defensive approach as it's taking on offense because it has to win the line of scrimmage. Floyd pointed out though the best defense for his team is going to be sustaining drives on offense.
"We're going to change some defensively. At the end of the day, we have to make tackles and get off blocks. Their best offense is either the Burch kid in wildcat or getting in the I-formation and getting physical and handing it to him," said Floyd. "We have to get to him and make him change direction before he gets a full head of steam going or else it's going to be very difficult to tackle him.
"Really what's going to help us defensively is moving the chains offensively and keeping them off the field, because they're awesome on offense," continued the LMA head coach. "You can take the Burch kid off the field, and they'd still be awesome on offense. They're hard to stop, so our best defense is going to be moving the chains and keeping those cats off the field."
While Floyd is gunning for the win on Friday night, his biggest message to his team is more about enjoying the moment and being proud of the great season it's had.
"One is that I'm proud of them and I love them. At the end of the day, this is just a football game. We want to play our best version of football and focus on us," said Floyd. "Regardless of the outcome, they've worked extremely hard and had an awesome season. They've learned a lot of lessons that they'll be able to carry on into life and they've laid the foundation for where we want this program to be year in and year out."
Rowland has taken that message of appreciating this game to heart, as he's looking forward to going out to fight with his team one last time.
"Of course, we're looking for the win, but in the end just having a good time," Rowland said about what he's most excited about with this championship game. "This will be my last time playing. We're a family, so we've just got to stay strong, work hard and get the win."
More Articles to Read