Sumter High School football head coach Mark Barnes said there was more excitement and anticipation from his Gamecocks in practice this week than there has been for any other game so far this season. And why shouldn't there be?
Undefeated Sumter …
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Undefeated Sumter has won its games by an average of 33 points a contest and hasn't played a consequential second half since the third game of the season. That's when it led Conway 13-10 at halftime before going on to a 34-10 triumph.
With 5-1 Blythewood set to take on the Gamecocks today at 7:30 p.m. on Sumter Memorial Stadium's Freddie Solomon Field, there will be a lot on the line. Along with trying to stay undefeated, 6-0 Sumter will be trying to put itself in the driver's seat for the Region IV-5A title, as will the Bengals.
"The players are excited about playing a quality opponent," said Barnes, whose team is 1-0 in region play, just like Blythewood. "And you expect your players to be excited when you're getting ready to play a good, quality team like this one. If your players aren't excited about playing a quality team in a big game, you've got a problem."
Sumter is coming off of a bye week after opening region play the week before with a 45-0 road win at Lugoff-Elgin. Barnes, whose team is ranked seventh among 5A schools in the latest S.C. Prep Media Football Poll, said his squad had a surprising week of practice leading up to the bye.
"That was the best week of practice we've had all year," Barnes said. "And that's surprising because you normally dread those weeks. What we did was we had our 1s (starters) on offense go against our 1s on defense. A lot of the players were saying that was the best team (the opposing Sumter starters) they've seen all year."
Barnes said the Bengals are the most talented team his squad has faced to date. Blythewood began its region slate last week with a 21-14 victory over Spring Valley, a game which Barnes took in with Sumter having the bye.
"The most impressive thing with them is their team speed," Barnes said of Blythewood, which entered the S.C. Prep Media poll this week at No. 10. "They really have a lot of speed at their skill positions both on offense and on defense. They are the most athletic team we've played so far.
"Their team speed on defense is the most similar to ours that we've seen."
Blythewood, which has won four straight games since suffering an 18-7 loss to Westwood in its second game of the season, is allowing just 15.5 points a contest while scoring over 27 a game. Sumter is averaging over 44 points a contest while allowing just over 11.
Sumter's offense is balanced as it is rushing for 176.7 yards a contest and passing for 202 a game. Running back Jonathan Henry is averaging 117.3 rushing yards a game with 12 touchdowns. Quarterback Ontra' Harvin has completed 52 of 69 passes for 812 yards and 13 TDs against just one interception. Hayden Vasquez, who has seen time in five of the six games, has completed 20 of 30 passes for 348 yards and three touchdowns while tossing just one interception.
Tony Dinkins-McCall is the leading receiver with 30 catches for 486 yards and seven touchdowns. However, six other players have at least five catches and six others have TD receptions.
The Gamecocks have a big play defense with 60.5 tackles for loss, 21 quarterback sacks and eight interceptions.
Dontae Coleman is the leading tackler with 41, Eric Watts and Deontae Farmer-Washington lead with 9.5 tackles for loss, and Watts leads with 5.5 sacks.
Blythewood is averaging 189.3 yards rushing a contest, while passing for 88 a game. The Bengals' running game is led by Jaylon Boyd with 614 yards and 10 touchdowns on 98 carries. Brandon Edwards has 310 yards and five scores on 30 carries, a 10.3 per-carry average.
King Ford is the quarterback. He took over when Quinton Patten went down with an injury in the Westwood contest and has remained the starter. He has completed 45 of 88 passes for 474 yards and five touchdowns against three interceptions.
"We've just seen him steadily improve since he's taken over," Barnes said of King. "He runs the option a lot, reading off of that, and he's good at what they want him to do."
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