By Thomas Grant Jr.
Three teams in three games in Lexington County with a chance at a state championship berth.
Those are the stakes for White Knoll, Brookland-Cayce, Gray Collegiate and White Knoll this Friday. The winners earn a trip to Orangeburg to play for a championship at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium on Willie Jeffries Field:
Summerville (13-0) at White Knoll (13-0)
Defensive coordinator Nick Pelham left in 2021 a state championship program at Dutch Fork which was riding an undefeated winning streak to take over a Timberwolves’ program that was coming off a winless campaign.
Three seasons later, he has White Knoll in a position to possibly meet his former employer in the Dec. 1 state title game in Orangeburg. It’s just the second Lower State final appearance for the program since 2012 when it lost to Dutch Fork.
Right now, however, Pelham and his team’s focus is trying to slow down a Green Wave offense that scored over 60 points for the fourth time this season in the 63-35 win over Carolina Forest and averaging close to 48 points a game.
Since the win over Dutch Fork this season, Pelham said White Knoll has approached each game as a “championship game”. As the Timberwolves posted wins over Fort Dorchester and Sumter, the team has grown in confidence.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge,” Pelham said. “They’re number one for a reason. They’ve got a fantastic offense. Their quarterback (Josh Cummings) is kind of an underrated guy. He came from another high school, but he’s a tremendous high school player. Makes a lot of big plays and can put the ball accurately. Makes a lot of plays in the run game.
“Obviously, they’ve got the receiver who I think was the (Class) 5A Lower State Player of the Year. One of the best players in the whole state. He does a lot of things for them. He’s a Wildcat quarterback. He catches deep balls, he catches screens. He’s a great blocker we’ve noticed in our film study. He does a lot of great things.
“Of course, they’re loaded upfront and they’re big and they’re strong. One of the keys of their offense is they have a guy who can do a little bit of everything for them. He plays some H-back so they can get him in there and block as a tight end and then when they want to get in spread formations, they can just line him up outside and he’s just as good as every receiver they’ve got.”
Conversely, Summerville faces a defense that has posted four shutouts and has allowed a total of 78 points all season. It held the Gamecocks last week to 171 total yards and collected three interceptions.
Demenico Banks led the Timberwolves with 6 ½ tackles. In the post-season, the Timberwolves have outscored their opponents 113-14.
“We’re starting to realize that maybe our defensive isn’t a fluke,” Pelham said. “Maybe we are pretty good on defense if we’re not just getting some breaks or figuring out what’s going on. But I think our defensive kids are really starting to believe in our system and exactly where they’re supposed to be and exactly all the calls. A lot of them have been three-year starters, so we can run a lot of different things at a moment’s notice. I think that helps us give different looks to offenses. I think that gives an advantage.”
Offensively, White Knoll has overcome the absence of Shrine Bowl tight end Hassan Lee with steady play from quarterback Landon Sharpe (2,465 yards, 29 touchdowns). Senior wide receiver Austin Cunningham has caught six touchdowns since his return from a Week 0 injury and freshman Tiyon Fanning leads the team with 724 rushing yards running behind an improved offensive line.
This is just the second meeting between the two schools. They met in the 2015 playoffs and the Timberwolves rolled to a 71-21 victory.
“We’re just going to have to start fast on Friday,” Pelham said. “We’re going to have to stay in the game. Summerville has put some teams away early with some big plays and some turnovers by their defense. They’ve jumped up on some teams. That’s something that we can’t have.
“We’ve got to make sure that we get on their side of the 50. We don’t have turnovers. We don’t have penalties. We punch it in, we score early and play some good defense early on and make it a game in the second half.”
The winner faces either Dutch Fork or J.L. Mann in the Dec. 1 final.
Abbeville (12-1) at Gray Collegiate (13-0)
Out of the three teams, the War Eagles has won a state title most recently in 2021. During the playoff run, they defeated the Panthers in the third round who were the defending Class 2A state champions.
Abbeville is once again the reigning Class 2A champion. This time, the Upper State final takes place on Gray Collegiate’s home campus.
The War Eagles are coming off a 35-28 victory over Strom Thurmond. Running back B.J. Montgomery rushed for 192 yards and three touchdowns and Blake Croft had 15 ½ tackles and a key interception return for a touchdown to hold off a late rally.
Abbeville’s defense also stood out in the 16-6 win over Silver Bluff. Through the first half, the Bulldogs were held to -6 total yards while the Panthers rushed for 212 yards led by running back Karson Norman.
He finished with 123 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The Panthers enter the game on a nine-game winning streak.
The winner faces either Oceanside Collegiate or Hampton County in the Nov. 30 title game.
Camden (10-2) at Brookland-Cayce (12-1)
The Bearcats are back in the Class 3A Lower State final for the first time since 2017.
Last week saw them put forth a dominant performance against the team to hand the Bulldogs their last defeat. Brookland-Cayce defeated Crestwood behind the dynamic backfield of running back DeShaun Washington and Shrine Bowl quarterback Will Young.
Young rushed for 315 yards and five touchdowns and Washington had 202 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the win.
They face a Camden team making its fourth Lower State title appearance in five seasons. The Bulldogs are coming off a hard-fought 35-28 victory over Gilbert.
The Indians jumped out to a 14-0 lead before the Bulldogs scored 21 unanswered points. After Gilbert rallied to retake the lead, Camden senior quarterback Grayson White took over.
He tied the game with a 31-yard touchdown pass to Jaquarius Mayrant. White then scored on a 24-yard touchdown run to put the Bulldogs ahead and finished the game by sacking Gilbert quarterback Drake Braddock.
White has 3,738 total yards and 44 touchdowns on the season. In the last meeting against Brookland-Cayce in the first round of the 2021 playoffs, he threw for 190 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for two touchdowns in the 27-24 victory.
Brookland-Cayce is seeking its first state title since winning it all in 1966. The winner will face either defending champion Daniel or Chester on Dec. 2.
Photo by White Knoll High School – White Knoll seniors after winning the Region 5-4A title