Northwestern's players were lined up on both sides of a long line of tables piled with containers of turkeys.
Their job Wednesday was to strip the meat from the bones and get it servable for the Rev. Ronal King and his "Feed the Hungry'' program. Thanks to King, cook Dennis Partlow, Trojans' assistant coaches and an entire team of football players, King will feed Thanksgiving dinner today to those who otherwise would not be eating turkey and the fixings.
The Trojans were doing their civic duty after practicing at District Three Stadium Wednesday morning. That's a selling point, more or less. If Northwestern is practicing and helping King the day before Thanksgiving, that means the Trojans are one game away from playing in the state championship game at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.
For the third straight year, the Trojans are playing in the Class AAAA, Division II semifinals, a game they fondly refer to as the "Turkey Bowl.''
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In 2008, Northwestern beat Lancaster in the semifinals but lost to South Pointe in the championship. Last year, the Trojans beat South Pointe in the semifinals, but lost the title game to Berkeley.
"Going three straight years, that's a big thing,'' Trojans defensive end Rod Byers said. "But we still have other business to take care of Friday night before making plans to go back to Columbia.
"The two years we lost, our fans stayed behind us and told us not to worry, that there is always next year. I'm a senior, so this is my next year. I won't look past Goose Creek, but winning the state championship is always our goal.''
Byers is one of two Northwestern defensive players being recruited by Division I schools. The other is Gerald Dixon, whose father played at South Carolina. Collins Mauldin, at the nose, is also getting notice, but from smaller schools.
Friday's game at Goose Creek looms large for both teams. The winner advances to next Friday's state championship game against the winner of the North Augusta at Greenwood game.
The Trojans and Gators are 13-0, winners of their regions. But the similarities end there, especially on offense. Northwestern throws the ball. Goose Creek runs the option, lining up behind its huge offensive line and running straight at opponents.
Stopping the run and giving the ball to quarterback Justin Worley and the Trojans' high-powered offense is the defense's goal. All week, Byers, Dixon, Mauldin and the other Northwestern defenders have watched videos.
They admitted they have a lot of work to do on Friday.
The Gators have rushed for 4,532 yards and 63 touchdowns. Getting most of the totes are Jerome Jordan, a 6-foot, 200-pound tailback with 1,598 yards and 15 TDs; Virgil Smalls, a 6-2, 260-pound fullback with 961 yards and 21 TDs; and quarterback Jay Marsh, 781 yards and nine touchdowns rushing, 581 yards and 10 TDs passing on just 47 completions.
"We know how to stop them; problem will be finding the ball,'' Northwestern defensive coordinator Mike Biddix said. "We've moved Rod and Gerald to defensive end, and they should be inside. And Collins is in the middle, where he's been turning it loose and going hard.
"Goose Creek runs the triple option, but it's a lot like the offense Clover runs. It's based on quick decisions and deception. Our guys have to be ready for that.''
Mauldin said he and the other linemen are ready.
"The are huge everywhere, a lot bigger than any team we've played,'' he said.
"What we have to do is stop it up front with the help of our linebackers. Goose Creek is a great team and we'll have to play a great game to beat them.
"They seldom pass, but we have to be ready if they do."
Northwestern has allowed 1,734 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. Dixon, who has made a big play or two each game, says he is not intimidated by the Gators' size. Dixon is 6-3, 282; Byers 6-5, 270; Mauldin 6-1, 225.
The stud on Goose Creek's offensive line is 6-foot-7 Brandon Shell, an all-state player who has committed to South Carolina. The Gamecocks are also recruiting Dixon and Byers.
"They have some very good players, and this is a big game for both teams,'' Dixon said. "We have been studying what they do, and if we carry over from the practice field to the game what we've learned this week, we should be fine.
"We have to keep them from making any big runs, make them have a lot of three-and-outs, and give the ball to our offense. But most of all we have to keep our eyes on the pitch. We can't lose site of the ball and let it (option) hurt us.''
Class AAAA Division II semifinals
Northwestern at Goose Creek
North Augusta at Greenwood
Upper State championship
Fairfield Central at South Pointe
Lower State championship
Myrtle Beach at Bluffton