By DENNIS BRUNSON
Item Sports Editor
The Sumter High School football team may have wrapped up its first region title since 2003 with its 27-14 win over Conway last Friday, that doesn't mean today's game against Hartsville in Kelleytown doesn't have any meaning to it. Far from it.
With a victory and a little bit of help, Gamecocks head coach Paul Sorrells believes his team can secure the No.2 seed in the 4A Division I state playoffs. The significance of a No.2 seed means that SHS would be able to play each of its playoff games at Memorial Stadium leading up to the state championship game at Williams-Brice Stadium.
"Last week was the most important game for us because it helped us to get to this point," said Sorrells, whose 9-1 team is ranked No.5 in The Associated Press 4A poll. "This game is much more important because we need it if we want to get that No.2 seed.
"We've really made the point each and every day that we can't relax," he added. "This is not a toe-stubbing time for us. It kind of knocks the luster off the region championship if you let somebody else beat you."
Sorrells said if Sumter defeats 7-3 Hartsville, 8-2 Conway beats 5-5 Dutch Fork and 5-5 Lexington tops 5-5 White Knoll, then the Gamecocks would get the No.2 seed based on the seeding of the region champions based on 4A's points system.
Sorrells doesn't expect an easy time of it with the Red Foxes either. Hartsville will be trying to secure a playoff berth. If the Foxes win and have South Florence beat West Florence, that would secure a spot in the Division II playoffs. Win or lose, Hartsville head coach Jeff Calabrease thinks his team will be in the running for one of the at-large berths based on the points system.
The fact that Hartsville has beaten Sumter in the two games since they've become members of Region VI has the Gamecocks' attention as well.
"We've let the kids know that we're going to Kelleytown, there's going to be a lot of people there and that they need a win to get into the playoffs," Sorrells said. "We know that they're going to play hard, probably play the best game they've played all year long. We can't afford to go in there and get bushwhacked."
The Red Foxes snapped a 2-game losing streak last week with a 42-14 win over South Florence. They lost to Conway 36-28 and followed that with a 17-3 loss to West Florence, which Sumter beat 41-7.
Hartsville runs out of the Wing T offense like Crestwood, but the Red Foxes put the ball in the air much more than the Knights. Hartsville quarterback Wil Newsome has completed 89 of 182 passes for 1,463 yards and 23 touchdowns. Newsome's favorite target is Shrine Bowl wide receiver Jordan Lyles, who has caught 62 passes for 1,086 yards and 20 touchdowns.
That doesn't mean the Red Foxes can't run the ball though. Running back Bennett Saunders has rushed for 1,164 yards and 11 TDs on just 89 carries. That's an average of 13.1 yards a carry. Sorrells said Hartsville is especially effective at running a counter play called "Sallie."
"It's amazing the yards they average on that play because they've had so many long runs off of it," he said.
Calabrease said the Red Foxes need to be able to hold on to the ball offensively to have a chance to win.
"We've got to be able to move the ball on offense; we've got to be able to stay on the field as long as we can," he said. "Sumter's playmakers aren't on the field if we have the ball."
The game has the potential to be a shootout. Hartsville has scored 354 points, while SHS has scored 353.
Sumter has a balanced offensive attack, averaging 221.5 rushing yards and 153.4 passing yards a game. Running back Roderick McDowell has 1,044 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns on 135 attempts and 13 receptions for 277 yards and five TDs. Shrine Bowl fullback Steven Lewis has 425 yards and two TDs on 63 attempts. Quarterback Stephen Curtis has completed 84 of 150 passes for 1,485 yards and 16 touchdowns against just eight interceptions.
"Those three guys just make their offense so tough," said Calabrease. "Their offensive line has blocked well and they've got some guys who can catch the ball. They can be a nightmare for a defense."
Sorrells, however, was pleased with the play of his team's defense against Conway. A week after losing to Richland Northeast 42-7, Sumter pretty much shut down a high-scoring Conway offense.
"I think that was the best (defensive) game we've played," he said. "I think the most important thing is we're still getting better, and that comes as individuals continue to get better. I think our best football is still out there because we're still getting better."