The arrest of a starting quarterback followed by a shutout loss to a rival in the span of five days constitutes a bad week for a football coach.
South Pointe coach Strait Herron endured those very experiences the first week of October. Humiliated and embarrassed, the Stallions have responded the best way possible, winning all seven of their games since, and staying out of the news for the wrong reasons. Herron doesn’t believe it was the events of that week that have spurred his team, as much as the reaction of his players.
“It’s just the same old thing for us, next man up,” he said. “You put people out there that you hope can get the job done, and they’ve stepped up and made plays. It didn’t have anything to do with the situation, it’s just the kids buying in to what we’re doing and playing hard.”
Stratford hosts South Pointe on Friday night with the winner advancing to the state championship the following week. Stratford coach Ray Stackley has been pacing high school football sidelines long enough to know what kinds of teams respond to adversity in the manner South Pointe did.
“I think the programs that have pride, tradition and history, they always rebound,” said Stackley. “You hate to have those kinds of things happen. South Pointe, since their inception, they’ve been a quality football program so it’s no surprise they rebounded back.”
The Knights were served their own slice of adversity in the final two weeks of the regular season. Stratford opened the season 9-0, the school’s best start since 2002 when they won their first 13 games before losing to Rock Hill in the state championship. But undefeated South Florence knocked the Knights from the unbeaten ranks with a 26-14 loss in crummy, rainy conditions, before rival Goose Creek scored late to deal Stratford its second loss in as many weeks.
Stratford had wobbled for a few years after Cane Bay High School opened in 2007, claiming a large chunk of the school’s student body. The 9-0 start built the Knights’ collective confidence up, but the two losses tore it back down far quicker.
“You say a loss is never good for you but I think it kind of humbled our guys a bit,” Stackley said.
Stackley said his team simply didn’t play well in its first loss and that losing the next week 14-7 to Goose Creek was an unlucky result. Against the crosstown rival Gators, Stratford had the ball last but couldn’t punch in a game-tying score. The team’s reaction the first two rounds of the playoff has been ideal, especially last week when the Knights dumped South Florence out of the postseason, 30-14, to avenge the previous outcome.
“I’ll use South Pointe as an example, they had a little trial and tribulations with their quarterback situation, you don’t want to lose one, but sometimes losing a ball game kind of rights your ship,” said Stackley. “It gets you refocused on what you need to do better. I think they’ve done that, and since we’ve lost I think we’re playing better football.”
Stackley’s assertion is hard to argue, as is the feeling that South Pointe’s players and coaches have accomplished something great just by reaching the semifinals of the state playoffs. It’s something that would have been difficult to foresee in early October.
“You just have to be really proud of their internal fortitude,” Herron said. “They never gave up, and that’s part of growing up.”
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T