A big night for regular-season football in South Carolina proved to be a win-win-win for the state.
As expected, the state's No. 1 team, Rock Hill (S.C.) Northwestern outlasted a quality Gaffney (S.C.) High team, 42-28.
And the state's No. 2 team, Roebuck (S.C.) Dorman proved once again that it is better than perennial power Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes, 21-14.
The biggest winner, however, may have been the Palmetto State itself.
South Carolina figures to begin its state playoffs in two weeks with four teams in the RivalsHigh Top 100, led by No. 11 Northwestern and No. 12 Dorman. And when you include No. 53 Goose Creek (S.C.) High and No. 62 Greenwood (S.C.) High, you suddenly have a state among the best of the second-tier group that annually fights for recognition behind Florida, Texas and California.
Simply put, South Carolina football is for real in 2010. That's something that should hold true when RivalsHigh releases its annual state-by-state rankings next week.
Like the state, top-rated Northwestern has been a steady climber since the beginning of the season.
The Trojans, behind the state's all-time leading passer and Tennessee commit Justin Worley are now sitting at 10-0 and have wins over Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe, North Augusta (S.C.) High and now Gaffney (S.C.) High.
Head coach Jimmy "Moose" Wallace thinks challenges like this make his team better prepared to win a state title.
"I'm just so proud of these kids," Wallace said. "We told them this would be a dogfight and that's exactly what it was."
The Trojans likely are as good as Worley leads them to be. In the team's win Friday night, the quarterback threw for five touchdowns and ran for the other score.
Dorman, which surprised Byrnes in a state final a year ago, also is quite good . It also knew all season it would have to beat Byrnes again to prove it.
"I know they thought what we did last year was a fluke," Dorman coach Dave Gutshall told RivalsHigh this summer.
It was no fluke Friday night as Dorman took advantage of numerous Byrnes mistakes to triumph.
The only downside to the results may come when the playoffs are announced. South Carolina splits Class 4A (its biggest) into two Divisions in the postseason. Northwestern and Dorman are projected to be in different divisions.
Not that Northwestern will have it easy. Gaffney coach Don Jones said he thinks a potential Northwestern-Greenwood final would be special. And perhaps inevitable.
"If I was a gambling man, I'd put my money on Greenwood and Northwestern in the Division II championship game," he said. "Both of them are great, well coached teams."
Dorman doesn't figure to care where it's placed or what team it has to play. It has shown all season it is willing to take on all comers. The preseason Top 10 team rose as high as No. 8 and currently sits at its lowest spot of the season, No. 12.
It had a challenge in Byrnes Friday night but was consistently able to rise to the occasion, answering every big play from Byrnes with one of its own.
What was expected to be a low scoring affair had the early makings of a track meet.
Following a Byrnes fake punt, Dorman used a quick strike attack and scored on two plays to take a 7-0 lead.
Brynes answered in what was a bit of a trick play, as tight end Craig Weick threw a touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Akia Booker.
On the next series, Dorman went right over the top to the No. 2 player in the state, wide receiver Charone Peake, for an 80-yard touchdown.
But that 14-7 margin stood up until the beginning of the fourth quarter when Byrnes was done in by one of its many mistakes.
On a fourth-and-35, Dorman punted to Byrnes. Booker attempted to catch the punt falling backward and fumbled. Dorman recovered. On the next play, running back Raymond Smith took it in for a touchdown.
Byrnes would punch in a score under a minute left making the final margin, 21-14.
The score may surprise some nationally, but not necessarily in South Carolina. With the victory, Gutshall moves his all-time record against Byrnes to 11-10.
The strength of the rest of South Carolina is what should be getting national notice.
The Palmetto State has had no fewer than three teams ranked in the RivalsHigh 100 at any point this season and could figure to add another as the season progresses: Irmo (S.C.) High, North Augusta High, Summerville (S.C.) High and South Pointe all could earn consideration for the rankings as the playoffs approach.
Byrnes buries itself
Aside from the sting that goes along with suffering a loss to a rival, Byrnes will take a look at the tape and realize the game was within its grasp from beginning to end.
And that it shot itself in the foot time and again.
As the first half wound down, Byrnes had the ball and was driving. The Rebels had the ball inside the Dorman 6-yard line with 33 seconds to play and no timeouts.
It called a run. And didn't score.
Then, with 17 seconds left and the clock ticking, the Rebel coaches called another run - and didn't score.
And while the TV showed Duncan got away with having a 12th man not quite off the field at the snap, Byrnes could not get away with its play-calling mistake. The clock ticked to zero before the team could line up and spike the ball.
Byrnes went into halftime trailing 14-7 instead of potentially tying the game or at least getting an easy field goal.
Byrnes made another big mistake at the start of the second half. After stripping the Dorman runner of the ball, Byrnes attempted a scoop-and-run return instead of simply falling on the ball. The attempt failed, allowed Dorman to recover the ball and keep possession.
With playoffs on the horizon, problems that have plagued Byrnes in the past are coming to prove problematic again in 2010. If the Rebels want to bring the state title back to Duncan, they will need to right the fundamental wrongs.
- Joe Hughes of The Gaffney Ledger contributed to this report