York and Spartanburg clash Saturday in the 4A Division II state championship football game in Columbia, but it’s not the two teams’ first meeting this season.
They faced off Aug. 16 in the Bank of York scrimmage. The Cougars won 41-35 in a workout set up by York’s coaching staff for a particular reason.
“Coming into the season we didn’t stop the run very well – didn’t stop the pass very well either – and we were trying to pick some teams to scrimmage and play in the preseason and the non-conference games, and when you want to try and stop a football team that can run the ball, the first team that comes to mind in my 32 years coaching in this state is Spartanburg High School,” said York coach Bobby Carroll. “That’s Tailback University; they’ve had some great ones, and they’ve got one now.”
The Vikings certainly do. Junior Tavien Feaster missed several games with injury this season but has rushed for 1,023 yards on 107 carries, an average of 9.6 yards per touch. The 6-foot, 193-pounder won both the 100 and 200-meter state championships last spring, and already has a pile of FBS offers, with Clemson, Auburn, North Carolina and Tennessee the early favorites.
Feaster is rated as one of the country’s top 15 prospects in the junior class, but York held its own against him in August. York not only won the scrimmage, but learned two things.
“We found out, yep, he can run it, and nope, we can’t stop the run,” said Carroll with a grin.
Maybe the coach was selling his defense short a bit. York forced Feaster into a pair of fumbles, which allowed the Cougars to build a 41-21 lead in the third quarter before substitutions started flowing freely. York quarterback Deshaw Andrews said Spartanburg’s defense “was smart and they were fast. It was challenging.”
It’s unlikely either coach thought the two sides would meet again this fall, let alone in the state title game. Miller said he had once scrimmaged a team then faced them later in the season in the state semifinals, while Carroll didn’t remember that happening in his career. He wasn’t sure, though.
“I’ve gotten old,” Carroll said, drawing a laugh from the Monday press conference crowd.
The two coaches have pitted their teams against each other in the preseason before. After Carroll’s South Pointe won the 4A Division II state championship in 2008, it opened the following season with a scrimmage against Miller’s Byrnes, which had just won the Big 16 state title. Miller had a tougher time last season, his first at Spartanburg during which the Vikings finished 6-6. After the first weekend of October this season, Spartanburg was 3-3 when the coach said his team really began to cohere.
“We beat a very good Dorman football team, got some confidence levels built up,” said Miller. “So I felt like the kids, at that point, realized how good they could be.”
The Cougars’ scrimmage win over Spartanburg must have surely puffed their chests out, for a weekend at least. But that game almost seemed like years ago and both sides have endured hardship, climbed figurative mountains and now ascended to the Williams-Brice peak since that steamy, largely meaningless August scrimmage.
“You don’t get to do this very often and some people never get to do it in an entire lifetime. Unfortunately somebody has to lose, and hopefully it’s this guy,” said Carroll, pointing at Miller seated next to him.
“Just happy to be here,” said Miller, two-handed patting the table at which he and Carroll and their players sat before the gathered media on Monday in Columbia. “It’s so hard to get to this place.”
Asked if the teams looked similar or markedly different from the August scrimmage, Miller said York looked like it hadn’t slowed down at all.
“They’re still moving the ball around, doing the things they were doing,” he said. “They’re looking good.”
Asked the same thing, Carroll couldn’t resist. He said, “yeah, Feaster’s gotten a whole lot faster!”