It’s 3:15 p.m. on Wednesday and Lewisville football players are cranking out their 15-minute pre-practice workouts.
Coach Will Mitchell shouts “it’s a great day to be a Lion!” and he’s not exaggerating. Lewisville football is practicing in December and while Mother Nature had a slight hand in that, Mitchell’s program is as deep into the state playoffs as it’s been in well over a decade. The opponent in Friday’s third round is no surprise: McBee.
None of these Lewisville (10-2) players have beaten McBee since eighth grade. This is “not your daddy’s McBee,” because your daddy’s version of the Panthers was probably winning a few games per season. Coach Charlie Poole arrived at the school in 2011 and gradually transformed McBee (9-3) into a power running juggernaut that has laid waste to 1A football opponents the last three years, winning 31 games.
300+ McBee running back Ricardo Wright ran for over 300 yards and four touchdowns last week in the Panthers’ 41-18 win over Blackville-Hilda in the second round of the 1A playoffs.
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Like Lamar, McBee has been an unavoidable road block the last few years. The Panthers beat Lewisville 63-19 and 61-0 in 2014, then shut out the Lions 18-0 in a weather-shortened game last season.
“There’s a little bit of a mental thing there,” Mitchell said as he walked up to the school’s football stadium for practice.
“We’ve just got to get past the name on the jersey,” said senior QB Trey Keels. “Can’t get worried about the name of the school, just have to go out and play our game.”
Lewisville came as close as it has in recent years to beating McBee in late September. The Panthers led 14-8 at the half and 22-8 headed into the fourth quarter before things fell apart for Mitchell’s bunch. That’s a tendency of Poole’s McBee squads, to turn one bad play into three or four, to avalanche opponents before they realize what happened.
“They manage to squeeze scores, boom, boom, right back to back,” said Mitchell.
They did that last time. We’ve gotta not let that happen. Because then we always get our bearings and it’s too late.
Lewisville coach Will Mitchell on McBee’s tendency to bury teams with quick bursts of turnovers and touchdowns.
Lewisville is undoubtedly talented. Senior receiver Mike Hill would start at most schools of any size in South Carolina, while junior defensive tackle Josh Belk is a top-100 national recruit. Seniors Jene Thompson and Darryl Manning are two of the best defensive players in The Herald’s coverage area. But Mitchell said before the season started that he was concerned that his team - experienced in the amount of games played - was inexperienced in the art of winning. Even the Lewisville players realize that.
“When we get to them we say we’re gonna play them tough and then when we step on the field, everything goes down the drain,” senior offensive lineman DeAllen Boulware said.
“I don’t think our kids realize how good we are,” said Mitchell. “Looking at some 1A tape from the Lower State, I think the three best 1A teams in the entire state are in our region.”
Hill, a North-South all-star selection, missed last week’s win at McCormick and is questionable for this week’s game. Mitchell said someone will have to step up if he’s out, but then that would be true regardless. Lewisville has talented players and needs them to produce Friday on the road against a vaunted opponent.
Mitchell wants his team to show up and be the most excited to play. A quick start would help the Lions mentally.
“I told them, if I had to pick the one to win, either the one in October or the one in December, I’ll take the one in December,” he said.