Opposing coaches shared platitudes, back-slaps and talked so adoringly about each other’s teams Monday at the South Carolina High School League football state championship press conference that some of the grown men almost blushed.
But it was just a press conference after all, and the coaches of teams that will do almost anything to win a state title on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia were seated right next to each other. What were they supposed to do?
Enough talking. York and Spartanburg kick off Saturday’s championship festivities at Williams-Brice Stadium at noon. The 3A game, pitting South Pointe and Hartsville against each other, follows at 3 p.m.
In the 4A Division II final, Spartanburg (11-3) and York (12-2) clash for the second time this season, after scrimmaging in the preseason. Saturday’s final matches up two teams whose coaches rejuvenated their programs. Chris Miller, who won three state titles in six years at Byrnes, took over at Spartanburg after Freddie Brown was let go following the 2012 season. In just his second season at the Vikings’ helm, Miller has his team back in the big-time, led by a pair of juniors, standout quarterback Austin Scott and running back Tavien Feaster, one of the top 2016 prospects in the country.
“I wanted to be at state the first year,” said Miller when asked if he was surprised by how fast he got Spartanburg into a state championship game. “As coaches that’s what we strive to do. I was very disappointed in that first year. (A championship appearance) never comes too early.”
York’s Bobby Carroll is in a similar situation. He’s got the Cougars in the state title game just four years after showing up at his alma mater. That’s no easy task, considering York hasn’t reached a state final since its 1986 3A state championship victory.
“Finally we’re here,” said Carroll, whose team was knocked out of the playoffs by South Pointe and Northwestern the last three seasons. “We’ve got an unbelievable opponent we’ve got to play but just making it to this game is amazing. I know the people in York are proud, and that’s what we wanted to be, a big community deal.”
Both coaches looked at ease, especially Carroll who can always get a room chuckling. South Pointe’s Strait Herron and Hartsville’s Jeff Calabrese were a little less comedic, but no less complimentary of each other’s teams in the day’s first of three press conferences.
“Watching them on video hasn’t been fun,” said Herron, alluding to Hartsville’s wing-t offense that has helped the Red Foxes out-gain their opponents 6,356 to 2,454 in offensive yardage. “Defensively, same thing. They’ve got guys who can run. The linebacker that’s gonna be at North-South (Ray Coe) is as good as we’ve seen this year.”
Since dropping down from 4A in 2010, Hartsville (14-0) has dominated the 3A classification, winning 47 of its 56 games. The Red Foxes won the 2012 3A state title with a perfect record and are hunting a second perfect season in three years. South Pointe (11-3), which has appeared in the state championship game each of the three seasons it has played in the division - winning one so far - and is 13-1 all-time in 3A playoff football, has also benefited by stepping down from 4A.
“First of all, the scouting report on South Pointe is they’re fantastic,” said Calabrese. “Mr. Frazier down there, I’ve been having some tremor nightmares just watching him play the last couple of weeks. He’s a phenomenal football player and so is their whole team.”
Calabrese was referring to South Pointe defensive end Brandon Fisher when he said “Mr. Frazier.” He wasn’t the only one to get a name wrong, and some coaches didn’t even use players’ names at all. Carroll called Spartanburg Shrine Bowler Cedarius Rookard by his jersey number, No. 5, which caught on with several reporters who also called the talented multi-position athlete “No. 5.”
For anyone other than a reporter there wasn’t much to take away from Monday’s meeting, other than maybe a full belly thanks to a catered post-press conference luncheon. After a weekend of gourmet gluttony, some folks didn’t even eat that much.
The first victories of the championship week were claimed, though. Both South Pointe and York will be the home team in their games Saturday, after winning Monday’s coin tosses.