Indian Land football coach Michael Mayer won’t miss the Friday night treks down SC-9.
That highway, home to Pageland, Chesterfield and Cheraw, has hosted the lonely journeys home after so many defeats to the Warriors’ powerful football neighbors. But regardless of whether the recently announced realignment proposal for 2016 is approved or not, Indian Land, in the midst of dramatic growth, will be leaving Region 4-2A and the Chesterfield County schools behind.
“I’m glad to get out of Chesterfield County,” said Mayer, whose team is 8-29 all-time against the three, including 2-11 in the last five years.
This is the Warriors’ last regularly scheduled run down SC-9, and, as usual, it will have a huge say in how their season goes.
“If we come out the first of the Chesterfield stretch and we win that game, if we live off that momentum, I feel like we’ll be all right,” said Indian Land senior Chris Blakeney.
Blakeney has started for the Warriors at linebacker since his freshman year. He and his brother, mother and father live in Indian Land. The rest of Blakeney’s family - 50 or 60 people he reckons - live in Pageland.
That makes the Warriors’ annual region contest with the Eagles a little more special for Blakeney. It also adds a bit of sting to the fact the Warriors haven’t beaten Central since the schools were integrated.
“Pageland is always a tough game, always,” said Austin Gordon, Indian Land’s fullback and leading rusher from last season. “We’ve just got to bring it as best we can.”
Indian Land has struggled with Pageland’s county rivals Cheraw and Chesterfield too. Those series have been a little closer, though, especially the latter.
The Warriors are 6-12 all-time against Chesterfield but had dropped six straight to the Rams by a combined 288-3 tally, before a 10-7 win last fall. Mayer’s team trailed headed into the fourth quarter, before ripping off an imperial 18-play drive - 18 running plays to be clear - that withered the Rams and led to a late Gordon 1-yard touchdown plunge.
“We just blocked for Austin and he just drove us down the field,” said Blakeney. “It was awesome.”
The Chesterfield win secured third place in the region. Blakeney said the players stayed in the locker room until well past midnight savoring the success.
The home win puffed up the Warriors’ confidence headed into this year’s Chesterfield County triple dose. Central and Cheraw both lost a number of quality players to graduation, though Chesterfield was young last season and should be improved this fall. Indian Land - 5-6 last season with a first round exit in the playoffs - knows it was 12 points and three narrow losses away from an 8-2 regular season record last season.
“Right now we’re confident and I think our kids are hungry,” said Mayer. “We’ve got a lot of kids coming back from the varsity and the JV team was really good and the middle school team was really good.”
“We know we can beat the teams; it’s just a matter of we’ve got to do it,” said Gordon, who toured the camp circuit this summer, visiting Gardner-Webb, Charleston Southern, The Citadel, Pittsburgh and several other schools. He projects as a college fullback.
Starting the region with the Chesterfield County schools will test the Warriors in another way.
“They’re physical,” said Mayer, “so you can get beat up. You won’t be as healthy as you want to be going into those last three games.”
Still, Indian Land, with 17 starters back, believes more than ever it can wrap up the SC-9 series with positive results. The third and final of the three - at Central - will be huge for Blakeney. No doubt he’ll have a whole section’s worth of family in the stands. But they won’t be cheering for him.
“If we beat Pageland,” said Blakeney, “we’ll party all night long.”
Indian Land football records vs. Chesterfield County schools (their state titles in parentheses)
Central (7): 1-14
Cheraw (4): 1-4
Chesterfield (3): 6-12