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Laurence Manning Academy's football team will host Ben Lippen on Friday in the semifinals of the SCISA 3A football playoffs at Billy Chitwood Field beginning at 7:30 p.m.
The winner will advance to the championship game against either Heathwood Hall or Hammond, the loser will see its season end a week earlier than it would have liked.
Regardless of what happens on Friday, it's safe to say LMA made a good choice when it gave 25-year-old Austin Floyd his first head coaching job back in March.
Floyd has led the Swampcats to a 10-1 record, and his team is just one win away from a place he's become familiar with over the past two years -- a state championship game. Floyd was offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Lamar High School in 2017 and 2018, Lamar won the 1A state championship in 2017 and finished runner-up in 2018.
All season long Floyd has preached the importance of his team being healthy in November, and the need for them to maintain a sense of urgency week in, and week out to ensure a high seeding in the playoffs.
As the Swampcats enter their matchup with Ben Lippen, they have been about as healthy as they can hope for at this time of the season.
That helped them secure the No. 2 seed and home field advantage until the championship game. Floyd wants to see the community capitalize on that home field advantage and help propel his team into the championship game.
"Our community loves football," said Floyd. "Last week, maybe our crowd was down a little from what I expected. I hope we have a big crowd this week. I know the weather is not looking great right now, but our kids deserve to have our crowd show up and be loud and be supportive. I guess that's me challenging our community, and our school to get behind our kids and not stay at home. It's not about me, it's about those kids and the work they've put in and for them to know that the community is going to rally behind them. I hope to see it packed out on Friday night."
The Swampcats earned a spot in the semifinals after defeating Porter-Gaud 40-14 in the quarterfinals last week. Senior running back Wyatt Rowland, and junior strong safety/wide receiver Gabe Harris each earned The Sumter Item Player of the Week honors for their performances against P-G. Harris recorded two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, while Rowland racked up 309 yards of total offense and four touchdowns.
(Wyatt) has caught the ball well, ran the ball well; he's done everything we've asked him to do," said Floyd. "Sometimes that even means not playing on certain downs offensively and defensively even though he wants to be out there. He's stayed healthy up to this point, and we're very blessed to have a young man like that who doesn't question us and just does what the coaches asked him to do. He's had a lot of individual success, but he's really the ultimate team guy for us, and that's a big plus for us."
The Swampcats will face a Ben Lippen team they've already beaten once this season, but Floyd knows his team can't take any team lightly -- especially being just a game away from the state championship game.
"We're gonna have our hands full," said Floyd. "Our guys understand that we're a good football team, but we're not one that can just show up. We know that we are capable of losing games if we don't play well. We have to show up and play Swampcat football. We have to run the ball and play good defense, and we'll have a chance to win the game."
LMA's main focus will be trying to find a way to limit Falcons starting quarterback Will Taylor. Taylor has committed to play baseball at Clemson, but he's also one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the state.
"He is arguably the best quarterback in SCISA," said Floyd. "He's a threat. He can run it, he can throw it, and he can improvise. He's scary. We did a pretty good job of containing him the first time we played them, and we have to try to replicate that. We have to understand that players like that are going to make big plays, but we just have to try to limit the damage at times."
The Swampcats won the first matchup 26-7, but the game was tight throughout, with LMA clinging to a 13-7 lead at halftime. The key in that game was third-down conversions. The Falcons converted just one of 10 third-down opportunities whereas LMA converted four of 10. Those big stops helped keep Taylor on the sideline, and not wreaking havoc on the LMA secondary. Taylor was held to just 73 yards passing on six completions in 21 attempts, but still managed to rack up 118 yards rushing.
"Our guys have played well," said Floyd. "They haven't backed down from a challenge yet, and they've wanted to get better each week. We're just excited to have another chance to play and hopefully we can win Friday and have a shot at whoever wins the other semifinal game."
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