Lancaster Memorial Stadium was quiet Wednesday afternoon. Tucked in the midst of two earthen berms and a stand of trees, the stadium looked like a postcard of fall, pleasant enough to warm the heart of any high school football fan.
The old stadium was still and peaceful mid-week, but it should be rocking Friday night when the Lancaster Bruins (6-1, 2-0 Region 3-3A) host South Pointe (4-3, 2-0). The Bruins have their best team in a number of years, and entered the 3A state rankings this week at No. 9. First-year head coach Bobby Collins seems to have successfully put his stamp on the program within nine months of taking over from retired coach Bennie McMurray.
Lancaster has allowed 12 points combined in its first two games in Region 3-3A, but now faces a resurgent bunch of Stallions that have gotten their offensive act together, and also surfaced in the 3A rankings this week at No. 10.
“I’m excited for the kids, I’m excited for the community, it’s gonna be a big game, packed crowd, nice weather,” said Collins. “So if you’re in the Lancaster, Rock Hill area, you’ve got to come out and watch a good high school football game.”
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Defense has fertilized the Bruins’ revival under Collins. Lancaster is allowing just 7.6 points per game, with Camden’s 14 the season-high surrendered. Only two of the Bruins’ opponents have rushed for more than 100 yards and only three have thrown for more than 100.
“Right now the key is they’ve bought in. We fly around, we attack the football and that’s probably the strength,” said defensive coordinator Marcus Surratt, who was previously the head coach at West Charlotte for five seasons before coming to Lancaster with Collins. “Even when we miss tackles, we’ve got a second and third guy coming. So we’re just doing a good job at swarming the football.”
There is no fancy tonic or remedy that morphed Lancaster’s defense into a group that has allowed the fewest points in the state’s 3A classification. On Mondays, Bruins defenders complete a pursuit drill. Tuesday is tackling circuit day and Wednesday’s focus is a turnover circuit. Each of those is followed by individual drills.
“Our focus on defense has been all fundamentals,” said Collins. “Keeping it simple and letting our players play. Our guys have been doing a good job on that and that’s been giving us a chance to be successful and prove that we’re one of the best 3A defenses in football right now.”
Lancaster players have embraced the attention to detail.
“We had athleticism last year, but we lacked focus,” senior defensive lineman Ty Miller said when asked about the biggest differences between this year and last. Another emphasis this season, senior d-lineman Juanyae Richardson added, is “technique.”
Lancaster’s defense, led by 2013 All-Area first team linebacker Cameron Meadows, will need all of those things to slow down the Stallions.
South Pointe’s offense has settled into gear the last two games resulting in 78 combined points and a pair of wins. Junior quarterback Greg Ruff has been key to the groove, completing 48-of-61 passes for 495 yards and six touchdowns, with just one interception since taking over the starting job before region play.
South Pointe has had 15 different players catch passes so far, but the coaching staff appears to have focused in on a group of trusted wide receivers. Quay Brown, Josh Wilkes, Nick McCloud and Deshawn Davis seem to be Ruff’s preferred targets, and all have seven or more catches and at least one touchdown in the last two games.
“We’re still scattering it around, but we know who we need out there on the field and we’re using those guys,” said South Pointe coach Strait Herron.
Ruff has been the ignition key. The junior may not be the biggest specimen, but he’s got a snappy arm, sports car mobility, and a big fan in Lancaster’s head coach.
“I think he’s a phenomenal player,” said Collins. “He’s got a good arm, left-handed quarterback that’s got those Michael Vick tendencies. He’s keeping drives alive with his feet and it looks like his team is playing for him and corralling around him.”
Miller and the Lancaster stoppers have seen a mobile, strong-armed quarterback already this fall.
“We played a similar quarterback when we played Chester,” he said, referring to the Cyclones’ QB, Tommy Sanders. “We already had that experience, so only thing we’ve got to do is just stay at the line of scrimmage, and when you see your opportunity, go after him.”
That Chester experience was a good one, as Lancaster held Sanders to 23 rushing yards on 22 attempts, and just 24 passing yards and an interception in a wet-blanket-like shutout of the Cyclones.
South Pointe‘s offense should be a more slippery bar of soap for Lancaster and its studly defense. The Bruins have never beaten the Stallions, losing all six meetings and not even coming close in the last four.
Far from being saddled by the weight of recent struggles against Herron’s program, Lancaster is using history as a spur. As a group of players began walking - not running - toward a different station in the Wednesday tackling circuit, Collins bellowed “Y’all are acting like you’ve beaten South Pointe before!”
The players promptly broke into a sprint.