If you're not excited, you're not breathing

The HeraldNovember 29, 2008 

No matter who you pull for, if you are not getting excited about Friday night's Class AAAA Division II state championship game, maybe it's time to visit your family doctor and get your pulse checked.

Some of you might want to go get your blood pressure checked as well, because if you are as excited as I am about the showdown in The Valley between Northwestern and South Pointe, you might need something to settle you down.

It's that good, folks. We've been close before, but this will be the first time two of our teams have been paired up in a state final. But we saw this coming all season, right?

Only one thing could have stopped it and it almost happened. When the 32 Class AAAA teams were split into two 16-team playoff divisions, Northwestern was No. 17 and stayed in Division II with the Stallions. And because they were placed in different brackets, the countdown to Clemson began the day they were announced.

The football gods must have been smiling down on us.

But it's not a stroke of luck that both made it this far. They have dominated through the first three rounds of the playoffs.

South Pointe has won its games by a combined score of 140-29; Northwestern's add up to 136-30. Wow. I knew both were rolling, but didn't know the numbers were that close.

Both won their regions with 5-0 records. South Pointe from Region 4-AAAA is 14-0. Northwestern, a Region 3-AAAA member, is 13-1. The loss came on Oct. 3, 28-7 against South Pointe.

Many of the Stallions' players would have suited up for Northwestern if South Pointe hadn't opened four years ago. The most visible is South Pointe quarterback Stephon Gilmore, whose next stop is the University of South Carolina with at least two of his teammates, DB DeVonte Holloman and WR Charles Holmes.

Northwestern, however, is not without its stars. Jarrett Neely and Gilmore were selected to play in this year's Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas All-Star Football Game. And if that's not impressive enough, both were among the state's best players chosen as finalists for the S.C. Mr. Football Award.

And you have to mention the coaches.

When Jimmy Wallace arrived at Northwestern in 1987 after leading Lewisville to the Class A state championship the previous season, South Pointe coach Bobby Carroll was already there.

Both stepped down in 2005. Wallace became Northwestern's full-time athletics director before returning to the sidelines last season. Carroll bolted for South Pointe to become the new school's first coach and to build the football team from the ground up.

To get it done, you guessed it, Carroll took several Trojans with him and hired assistants he had coached when they were Trojans.

Knowing how bad each coach wants to win and the internal competitive fire boiling inside their bellies, it's surprising either speaks a word to the other.

But they talk and still have a common thread. They want to win, but they are in it for the kids. Mess with one of their players and be prepared to deal with their teammates and coaches. Family. That's what they like to call their teams.

Northwestern started playing varsity football in 1971, and because there was no senior class, the Trojans played an independent schedule that included smaller and private schools.

South Pointe had no juniors or seniors when it opened in 2005 and fielded ninth-grade and junior varsity teams. Those ninth-graders went 10-0 and most of them are the stars of this year's team as seniors.

Northwestern has played in five state championships and has won two under Wallace. This is South Pointe's first trip, but after all, the Stallions are only in their third season.

As the week moves forward, there will be more written about these two outstanding teams. To say the road to the DII state championship runs through Rock Hill is a statement that can't be refuted.

So hope you are there in Clemson on Friday night. I'll be there, as will at least four other Herald staffers to give you the most comprehensive coverage possible.

And one more thing. Honey, will you go in the bathroom while I read over this column and get the blood pressure cuff out of the cabinet? We might need it.

Barry Byers • 329-4099 | bbyers@heraldonline.com

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