The last time Chester football made the state playoffs, the iPhone was only up to its fifth iteration, “Call Me Maybe” was inescapable on popular radio, and gas cost nearly $4 a gallon.
Okay, it was only a couple years ago, 2012.
That was the Cyclones’ best year under former coach Anthony Sterling, when they won five straight games late in the season en route to the third round of the 3A playoffs. Chester finished 8-5, the program’s last winning year. A winning campaign in 2015 would be a tall order, but a playoff spot is not out of the question after a big win against Broome last Friday.
“We have a shot. We need to win,” said Chester coach Victor Floyd. “Our playoffs have already started. Started last Friday for us.”
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If Chester wins one of its remaining two games (at Clinton, Union County), it’s almost certain the Cyclones will make the 3A state playoffs. If they win both there is no question.
Floyd’s bunch (3-5, 1-2 Region 3-3A) travel to Clinton (2-6, 0-3) Friday in a must-win game for both sides. Clinton coach Andrew Webb said the Red Devils’ backs are up against the wall.
“We know what’s at stake,” he said. “We’ve lost four games in a row but there’s plenty of positives we’ve taken from it. We hope we can put it together Friday and find a way to get right back in the thick of the playoffs.”
The Cyclones’ region campaign has gotten off to a tough start each of the last two years with 3A heavyweights Lancaster and South Pointe first up on the ledger. Chester had early leads in both of those games this year before losing. But where the Cyclones unable to get a win against Broome, Clinton and Union County last year, victories against those squads look more of a possibility this time around.
Chester toppled Broome 28-21 last Friday, and Clinton is up next. The Red Devils continue to alter their image as Webb shifts the historically run-oriented program to a spread offense. After several bad matchups against bigger teams like Union County and Lancaster, Clinton finally sees an opponent that mirrors itself, Chester.
“It should be a good football game,” Webb said. “We look the same and that’s the first time we’ve been able to say that since probably Broome.”
12 Clinton is averaging just 12 points per contest during its current four-game losing skid. The Red Devils are juggling quarterbacks with senior Charlie Craven and junior Donte Reeder.
“Their team is real scrappy on both sides of the ball,” Floyd said. “They have some good athletes, No. 12 (Donaven Blackmon). They’re kind of Jekyll and Hyde. Some games they look really good. You watch them against Woodruff... wow. Then other games they don’t look quite as good. It’s a scary game, and it’s an important game for us.”
Neither team has much depth or a lot of size, but both have game-changing skill players. Chester has leaned on Division I recruit Malik Williams at quarterback, and a future Division I recruit at tailback in ninth grader Pha’Leak Brown; those two have combined for 86 percent of the team’s rushing yardage.
Besides running the offense against Broome, Williams showed his value to the team fielding punts, returning one 57 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to tie the game. It’s the point in the season where Floyd can’t afford to have his best offensive player on the sideline.
The quarterback really makes them go. And the freshman running back doesn’t really look like a freshman.
Clinton coach Andrew Webb, talking about Chester duo Malik Williams and Pha’Leak Brown
Williams and Brown’s big-play ability has been well documented by this point, but there are other aspects of Chester’s team that have contributed to success. Following the predictable roster flushing that tends to happen with a first-year disciplinarian coach, Floyd said he’s been most surprised by the way his young guys - a slew of freshmen and sophomores forced into action - have adjusted to the varsity level, Brown included.
“We played about five or six freshmen Friday night,” he said. “A freshman (Ty Good) catches the winning touchdown. We started a freshman at right guard (Wyatt Tunall), we play another freshman lineman (Tyreze Campbell) half the game. The youth, the guys in ninth and 10th grade that have been able to contribute and grow up as the season goes, has been a pleasant surprise.”
Four spots in 3A postseason for Region 3-3A
3A football has a much easier playoff system to figure out than any of the other three classifications. Chester’s Region 3-3A gets four playoff spots; South Pointe, Union County and Lancaster look most likely to grab the first three, leaving the fourth for Chester, Broome and Clinton to fight over; Broome still has to play South Pointe and Lancaster. Naturally, the situation could change with two weeks left in the season, but Chester is in pretty decent shape.