Sports

It's crunch time

Clover's Jeremy Long (8) and Brooks McCarter block against Ridge View. The Blue Eagles' defense has played a huge part in their success.
Clover's Jeremy Long (8) and Brooks McCarter block against Ridge View. The Blue Eagles' defense has played a huge part in their success.

COLUMBIA -- It was a day of celebration Monday in Columbia.

The coaches and selected players from the final eight football teams still standing going into the Weekend of Champions at Williams-Brice Stadium gathered at the South Carolina High School League office and met the press.

The second group was the combatants for the Region 3-AAA state championship on Saturday at 6 p.m., the Chester Cyclones and Wilson Tigers.

Chester is making its first trip to the title game since 1963, when the Cyclones beat Eau Claire.

Clover's Blue Eagles are making their second trip and play the team they lost to in 1945, the Beaufort Eagles, in the Class AAAA Division II championship at 8 p.m. Friday.

Blue Eagles coach Jet Turner brought three of his top players -- quarterback Matt Endicott, defensive end Tré Turner and running back/linebacker Chris Douglas.

"We are very excited about this opportunity and are blessed to be playing for the state,'' Tré Turner said. "I feel like we have a good chance because of the way our defense has played in the playoffs.

"We tend to get overlooked on the side. Teams we play are usually concerned about our offense. Once we get on the field and they see how hard we hit and that we are ready to play, the other teams we've played were surprised.''

It' a valid point, because every team Clover plays spends the entire week working on how to stop the Blue Eagles' wing-T attack. Last Friday in the semifinals, Clover rushed for 354 yards in a 21-10 win over Ridge View. Douglas ran for 117 yards, Steven Sanders for 106.

Beaufort coach Mark Clifford said as soon as he and his players got home from Columbia on Monday, they were going to sit down and see what everyone is talking about.

The Blue Eagles have added a wrinkle this year -- well not exactly, but they are passing more. Endicott said it's for two reasons.

"First, we use it to surprise other teams,'' he said. "But some teams have learned how to defense our running game, so we have been passing the ball more to keep them honest.''

But not a lot. Endicott has completed 103 passes for 616 yards and four touchdowns. The team has thrown seven other passes. On the other hand, Clover has run the ball 716 times for 3,928 yards and 38 TDs.

"It's been a rewarding season,'' Douglas said. "If I had to look back and pick our biggest game, I'd say it was against Greenwood two weeks ago. We were on the road in the second round and beat them.

"They were the defending state champion and maybe now that we've made it to the state we can get some respect.''

Respect has been building at Chester the last four years. Since Victor Floyd got there four seasons ago, the Cyclones have gone 2-9, 6-5, 7-4 and 12-2 so far this season.

They've been a fixture in the state's two top 10 polls, same as Clover.

Floyd brought athlete C.C. Whitlock, quarterback Gene McCaskill and cornerback/defensive back Terrell Springs.

"When coach Floyd first got to Chester, he told us if we listen to what he said and did what he told us to do, we'd be playing the state championship when we were seniors,'' Whitlock said. "He said we had to work hard, that if we did, it would happen. We believed in coach Floyd and we made it.''

McCaskill came out of nowhere, forced to move to quarterback when Whiltock was lost for the season with a knee injury their sophomore season. The two have spilt time at quarterback and wide receiver the last two years, but McCaskill is getting more and more of the snaps.

"I can't wait for it to be Saturday,'' McCaskill said. "We knew we had a chance to play at Williams-Brice this year because our team is so athletic. Wilson is, too.

"It's a great experience and we haven't even played yet. Everywhere you turn in town you see a sign supporting or congratulating. Even players from the team that won it in 1963 have been coming to our games.''

Springs said playing in Williams-Brice will be one of the highlights of his high school career. He got interest from the Gamecocks, but they never got serious. So he committed to the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

"I've been to South Carolina games, so it's going to feel good playing in their stadium,'' Springs said. "It will be our first time playing there, and it's special because it's for the gold.

"I don't know much about Wilson yet, but I know they are good because they got here. I do know what we are capable of, and we have to play our game.''

• What: State football championships

• Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia

• When:

Class AAAA Division II, Beaufort vs. Clover, Friday, 8 p.m.

Class AA: Chapman vs. Cheraw, Saturday, Noon

Class AAAA Division I: Summerville vs. Byrnes, Saturday, 3 p.m.

Class AAA: Wilson vs. Chester, Saturday, 6 p.m.

• Tickets: On sale at each participating school in the main office. Chester tickets also on sale at Blacks Drugs in Chester; $8 advance, $10 at the gate both days.

Come to heraldonline.com all week for extended coverage of Chester and Clover as they seek state championships.

• Today: Video coverage of Monday's press conferences, with player and coach interviews.

• Wednesday: VIDEO: Folks in Clover send their well wishes to the Eagles.

• Thursday: VIDEO: Folks in Chester send their well wishes to the Cyclones.

• Friday: Get quarter, halftime and final scores the Clover game.

• Saturday: Get quarter, halftime and final scores the Chester game.

Plus:

PREP FOOTBALL WEB SITE: Stories, videos, photo galleries and podcasts can be accessed at www.heraldonline.com/preps.

BYERS REPORT: Prep writer Barry Byers talks about the state championships and interviews Chester coach Victor Floyd on his podcast.

FORUMS: Comment about the playoffs at http://community.heraldonline.com/forum

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