They don't get much bigger than this.
The second-ranked Laurence Manning Academy Swampcats travel to Columbia on Friday to take on top-ranked Hammond in a matchup that will effectively determines the SCISA 3A regular-season football …
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The second-ranked Laurence Manning Academy Swampcats travel to Columbia on Friday to take on top-ranked Hammond in a matchup that will effectively determines the SCISA 3A regular-season football championship.
Both teams enter undefeated in 3A play. LMA sits at a perfect 7-0 on the season while 2-time defending champion Hammond enters the contest with a 6-2 record. The Skyhawks' two losses though came against out-of-state teams. They lost to Southern Columbia Area, the defending Class 2A Pennsylvania state champions, and Charlotte Country Day, the defending North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association Division II champions.
The Skyhawks have outscored their 3A opponents 305-27, having not allowed more than seven points in a single game. They boast two of the top recruits in the country in defensive end Jordan Burch and defensive tackle Alex Huntley, and their starting quarterback is Jackson Muschamp, the son of South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp.
"They're very dynamic on offense," said first-year Laurence Manning head coach Austin Floyd. "They have arguably the best player in the country in the Burch kid, and their defensive line is probably their biggest strength. We're going to have to play very well to give ourselves a chance."
The Swampcats aren't 7-0 by accident though, and Floyd doesn't have any plans to change their game plan based on any one opponent.
"It's a big challenge for our kids, but we've earned the opportunity to play in this game," said Floyd. "I'm not going to change the identity of this football team for one game. Our identity is to run the football and play good defense, and if that isn't good enough, it isn't good enough. I'll take our team, and we'll do the best we can, and I wouldn't want to be with any other group of guys on Friday."
LMA is coming off back-to-back close games after defeating Cardinal Newman 20-9 at home last week, and beating First Baptist 39-31 in an overtime thriller two weeks ago. Floyd knows the team will have to play a near perfect game to give itself a shot on Friday night.
"We've told our kids all week that if we execute the game plan we've got, then we'll have an opportunity to win the game," said Floyd. "That's what we've kinda preached all week, and just focusing on being the best version of LMA that we can be. And we know that the best version of ourselves will give us a chance to compete."
The best version of the Swampcats will undoubtedly include a steady diet of handoffs to their vaunted backfield. Their running game has been led by Wyatt Rowland, Trey Sharpe and Nolan Osteen. That trio combined for 251 yards on the ground in LMA's victory over the Cardinals.
Perhaps the biggest challenge will be on the defensive side of the ball, where LMA will have to contend with a bevy of playmakers that are hard to catch and even more difficult to tackle.
"We focus on tackling every week," said Floyd. "We tried to identify some of their better players and work on gang tackling to get multiple guys to the football, because they do have a lot of guys that can run the rock and are tough to tackle. It's very basic, but Friday night we have to block well and we have to tackle well, and if we can do those things we'll give ourselves a chance to compete."
A win would put LMA firmly in the driver's seat for the SCISA 3A regular season championship. Their only remaining games are against a winless Pinewood Prep team, and local rival Wilson Hall, whose only victory so far this season is over Pinewood Prep.
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