These are the 10 must-see 2018 high school football games in The Herald’s coverage area:
Northwestern at South Pointe, Aug. 17
This game is a clear starting point for any list of a season’s top high school football games in The Herald’s coverage area.
South Pointe’s 32-point win last fall was the most one-sided game in the rivalry’s short history, but this year’s meeting should be much closer. The Stallions will be a different-looking team, more run-oriented, at least initially. QB Tahleek Steele is a more traditional signal caller, while running back Joe Ervin (Coastal Carolina commit) and a strong offensive line, led by 2017 Hawg of the Year Jackson Chappell, mean the Stallions will likely lean on the run game early.
Northwestern’s offense has looked sharp over the summer, but it’s unclear how the Trojans will perform up front, offensively and defensively. The Trojans have one of the best players in the state in wide receiver and Gamecocks commit Jamario Holley.
Each team has won seven of the 14 all-time meetings.
Clover at York, Aug. 17
Eternal rivals Clover and York open the 2018 season against each other. According to SCFootballHistory.com, it’s the first time the two schools have opened the season against each other since at least the 1950s.
York has won six out of the last seven games against the Blue Eagles, including last season’s turnover-filled contest. The two schools have one of the oldest rivalries in the state and have played over 100 times.
A month out, it’s pretty unclear which team would be the favorite headed into the 2018 matchup. York returns a starting quarterback and running back, but few, if any, receivers. Clover doesn’t have a publicly-announced starting QB yet, but returns a very strong trio of receivers -- Heze Massey, Zion Robbins and Jaylin Lane. Could be another sloppy slugfest, especially with the rivalry played the first week of the season.
Fort Mill at Nation Ford, Oct. 5
Nation Ford will go for its fourth straight win over the rival Yellow Jackets in this year’s version of the Milltown Showdown.
This matchup annually delivers a charged atmosphere and the games tend to be close. They also usually carry region standings significance, and the 2018 game should be no exception in Region 4-5A, which doesn’t have enough games to avoid tiebreakers.
The Yellow Jackets lead the all-time series 7-4. Fort Mill coach Rob McNeely will get his first taste of the Milltown Showdown in October. What will his team look like, especially on offense?
Rock Hill at Northwestern, Oct. 26
The Original Rivalry got a jolt from last season’s interesting and closely-contested game. It was the first time the two teams played with a region title on the line in nearly a decade. The game ended in somewhat weird fashion, but certainly increased the interest in this year’s meeting.
Can Rock Hill continue the improvement begun in 2017? The Bearcats have to replace QB Logan McFadden -- Hayden Jackson will get the chance to do that -- but return receiver and Tennessee commit Antonio Barber, as well as reigning All-Area defensive player of the year Narii Gaither, who will see more time at running back this coming season.
Or will Northwestern continue its dominance of the rivalry? The Trojans have taken 11 of the last 12 games from Rock Hill. The Bearcats haven’t beaten their crosstown rival since 2009.
Northwestern at Dutch Fork, Sept. 21
Two of the state’s powerhouse football programs meet for the first time ever in September.
Dutch Fork has played in state championship games four of the last five years, winning two titles. And the Silver Foxes, coached by legend Tommy Knotts, should be mighty again this year. They return running back Ron Hoff, who had a monster game in Dutch Fork’s 5A title game win over Dorman.
A big question is whether Northwestern can match Dutch Fork’s beef, its strength and size? The Trojans certainly match up well in speed and athleticism. But it’s the withering physicality of Knotts’ teams that whittles away at opponents.
Northwestern at Byrnes, Aug. 24
The series between two of the state’s best football programs in the last 15 years has tilted heavily in Byrnes’ favor. The Rebels lead the all-time series 10-9 after winning seven of the last nine meetings, including last year’s 48-14 shellacking in Rock Hill.
Northwestern faces some of the best running backs in the state in 2018 non-region play, and Byrnes is no exception. Rahjai Harris had a monster game against the Trojans last year -- over 140 yards of total offense and two 50-yard-plus touchdowns -- and he’s starting to pick up FBS scholarship offers.
Conway at Nation Ford, Aug. 24
These two schools meet for the first time ever in the second week of the 2018 season.
The Falcons catch a bit of a break by playing Conway this year, and not in 2017. The Tigers were pretty stout last season, especially up front where they had multiple FBS-bound offensive and defensive linemen. Conway has won at least eight games each of the last three seasons.
After a tumultuous 2017, how will Nation Ford look this fall? Hard to say. But the Falcons will certainly be more aware of their weaknesses after an opening three games against Spartanburg, Conway and South Pointe.
Chester at Fairfield Central, Oct. 19
Fairfield Central represents the hulking final hurdle for Chester in its quest to win a Region 4-3A title. The Cyclones haven’t beaten the Griffins since 2008, but last season’s 34-24 loss was the closest they’ve come.
This has to be the year Victor Floyd’s crew knocks off the bully neighbors from the south. Fairfield Central graduated 25 seniors from last year’s team, while Chester lost just six. Sure, the Cyclones graduated do-everything QB John Erby, but they return a talented pair of running backs -- Pha’Leak Brown and Stan Mills -- a 2017 Hawg of the Year and Appalachian State commitment on the offensive line -- Wyatt Tunall -- and a number of freshmen and sophomores that could end up high-level college football players too.
“Every time we get together with them it’s a rivalry. I don’t think they care a lot about us, and we don’t care a whole lot about them either,” Fairfield Central coach Demetrius Davis told The Herald after last year’s meeting.
Rock Hill at York, Sept. 14
This game will be one of the toughest on the Bearcats’ non-region schedule this year, a welcome change for Rock Hill coach Bubba Pittman. It’ll be preceded by Indian Land and followed by Lugoff-Elgin, games that Rock Hill would expect to win. So a victory against York could symbolize a momentum snowball for the Bearcats ahead of Region 4-5A play.
During the same stretch, York plays Dorman, Rock Hill and Fort Mill, a challenging stretch. York should have its usual size advantage over the Bearcats, but will the Cougars have enough playmakers to match Rock Hill away from the line of scrimmage?
The Bearcats have won 23 of the two schools’ 34 games since 1974.
Westwood at South Pointe, Sept. 28
The Stallions throttled Westwood 48-7 last season, but this year’s contest should be closer.
Westwood added cornerback Cam Smith in the offseason, a 6-foot-1 cornerback with offers from South Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia, among others. Dustin Curtis’ Redhawks upset No. 1 seed North Augusta in the first round of the 4A state playoffs last season and there is some justified optimism headed into 2018.
The two previous meetings were lopsidedly in South Pointe’s favor, a 57-7 win in 2016 and last year’s thumping, so Westwood will have to improve on those scores considerably for this to develop into any kind of rivalry. Similar to Ridge View’s attempts to knock South Pointe from the Region 3-4A football pedestal, it’s gonna take much more than talk.
Which game are you most looking forward to in 2018? Vote below (or here if on a mobile device)