All of you Clover Blue Eagles, players, coaches, athletic trainers, cheerleaders, band members, fans and school administration, stand up and take a bow.
Your team won the Class AAAA Division II state championship, Clover's first-ever title in a boys sport. And it also marked the first time your football team made it to the final game since 1945.
As fate would have it, you lost that year to the same team, Beaufort, that you beat 23-14 in Columbia back on Nov. 30. We're all glad you got your revenge.
There were many storylines this year, but Clover was hands down at the top of the list. The team had no superstars, just a group of hard-working, blue-collar types that went out and earned what they got.
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The Blue Eagles moved up to Class AAAA from Class AAA last year and became the darlings of the division. They ran the table and won the Region 3-AAAA championship with a 6-0 record. They went into the playoffs rolling, but never played well in two games and were eliminated in the second.
This season had two letdowns -- an early loss to Northwestern and another to Byrnes, which won the Class AAAA Division I state championship a few weeks later.
And there was the stumble, the wake-up call that Jet Turner, The Herald's All-Area Coach of the Year, felt his team needed. Clover nipped Lancaster 16-14, prompting a team meeting. Turner said his players reacted to the game like they had lost, that in previous seasons they would have been pumped up to win a close one.
Regardless, the light bulb came on and the Blue Eagles kept winning -- even knocked off defending state champion Greenwood -- on their way to the title and a school-record 13 victories.
The championship game was a snapshot of Clover's season. The Blue Eagles punched in and went to work. Three players who are not on the A-list of names when folks talk Clover football rose to the top. Ricky Moore scored three touchdowns. Brooks McCarter had three of Clover's five interceptions. The biggest pick was made by David Stone, a grab that probably decided the game.
And there was Northwestern, with Jimmy "Moose'' Wallace returning to the sidelines after running the athletics department for two seasons. He took over a team that was 6-6 last year and guided it to a 12-2 record and the Region 3-AAAA title at 6-0.
Wallace made an excellent hire in offensive coordinator Kyle Richardson. Under his direction and his "Air Raid'' passing offense, senior Will King rewrote the Trojans' passing records, throwing for 3,395 yards and 41 touchdowns. Because of his work, King was named The Herald's All-Area Class AAAA Offensive Player of the Year.
Now we come to Chester coach Victor Floyd, who has taken his Cyclones on an elevator ride to the top in his four seasons. They didn't quite make it to the top floor this year, stopping short with a 14-12 loss to Wilson in the Class AAA state championship.
But Floyd's work has paid dividends. His team was 12-3, the most victories in school history, and won the Region 3-AAA title. Three Cyclones are headed off to play Division I football: C.C. Whitlock (South Carolina), Gene McCaskill (Kentucky or maybe Penn State) and Terrell Springs (Alabama-Birmingham). Floyd expects several others to sign with smaller schools.
McCaskill, an offensive machine, is The Herald's All-Area Class AAA Offensive Player of the Year. Chester's Bobby Jackson was named the Defensive Player of the Year.
Kenny Schofield finally got his Great Falls Red Devils to the state championship after coming so close several times in the past six seasons. They lost to Blackville-Hilda in the Class A Division II title game, 14-7.
It was another great season for the Falls, which finished 11-3. The team also produced The Herald's All-Area Class A Offensive Player of the Year, Jeremy Simpson.
The hardest task this year was picking the top coach. There were so many fine candidates: Turner, Wallace, Floyd, Schofield, South Pointe's Bobby Carroll, Lewisville's Floyd Drum and Fort Mill's Ed Susi. Turner won in the end in a close vote. It's hard to pick against a coach that led his team to a state championship.
Carroll's South Pointe Stallions went 9-4, making the playoffs in their second season of varsity football. They were also ranked for the first time, spending several weeks in both state polls -- The Associated Press and the Prep Writers.
Watch this team next year. It was loaded with junior players who will be highly recruited and could be the team to beat in Division II when the playoffs roll around.
Susi led Fort Mill to a 7-4 record, but his team fell one point shy of making the playoffs based on strength of schedule. He will have to rebuild next year because 42 seniors graduate.
Among those are Chris Billingslea and Jared Shaw, The Herald's All-Area Class AAAA Defensive Player of the Year.
Drum's Lewisville Lions got off to a slow start and looked headed for a bad season. But Lewisville turned it around after its tough non-region schedule and won Region 3-A with a 5-0 record. Lewisville's Antwan Robinson, also a 4.1 GPA student, is The Herald's All-Area Class A Defensive Player of the Year.
Four other teams faced struggles, but kept playing hard.
Rock Hill was slammed by injuries and finished 4-8. But the Bearcats made the playoffs based on points.
York had to rebuild and never got it going on defense this season.
Lancaster was in some close games it could have won and is starting to turn the corner. Next year will be interesting.
Indian Land lost it first nine games, then picked up its only win on the final night of the season against North Central.
And let's not leave out Nation Ford and Westminster Catawba.
Nation Ford opening this year and played an independent schedule before joining Region 3-AAAA next season. The Falcons were 3-8.
Westminster restarted varsity football and went 4-5.
• CHANGE: Next year brings about a new struggle. Realignment for the 2008-2010 season ripped Rock Hill into pieces.
Rock Hill and South Pointe, along with Lancaster, were taken out of Region 3-AAAA and place in Region 4-AAAA. Northwestern stayed put, along with Clover, Fort Mill and York, but adds Gaffney and Nation Ford in Region 3-AAAA.
• THANKS: We appreciate the help of Lewisville's Susan Treveiler, who provided several photos for our front cover.
Also, we'd like to thank Allison and Will Manning, parents of soon-to-be 2-year-old Logan Manning, who you see playing on today's cover with The Herald players and coach of the year. Logan is the nephew of Herald sports copy desk chief Will C. Franklin (who is a very proud uncle).
And special thanks to goes to Daryl Palubiak, my good buddy from Tega Cay, who allowed us to use the electric football game he received for Christmas "Many, many, years ago.''
Merry Christmas to you all.