September 13, 2011

Can Trinity and Gaffney take the next steps?

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Dallas Jackson is the Senior Analyst for RivalsHigh. Email him your question, comment or story ideas to and follow him on Twitter.

No. 4 Louisville (Ky.) Trinity and No. 5 Gaffney (S.C.) High have long been powers at the state level.

This year, they are hoping to show that they are national players, too.

Both are off to strong starts - Trinity is 3-0; Gaffney is 4-0 - against quality competition to earn their highest spots ever in the RivalsHigh 100.

Are they good enough to break into our Top Three of Ramsey (N.J.) Don Bosco, Allen (Texas) High and Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas? We'll find out this weekend as both go on the road to face perennial power programs.

Trinity travels to Cincinnati to take on No. 19 St. Xavier; Gaffney travels to Duncan, S.C., to battle Byrnes. Win these games - at these places - and they'll have proven they can match up with anyone, anywhere.

That's what programs who battle for national championships do.

A quick look at both schools:

Top 100 breakdown
No. 4 Louisville (Ky.) Trinity

COACH: Bob Beatty
STATE TITLES: 20, including 8 of the previous 10 in Kentucky
HIGHEST END OF SEASON RANKING: No. 39 in 2008, following a 14-1 state title winning season
LAST END OF SEASON RANKING: No. 67 in 2010, following a 15-1 state title winning season

WHY IS THIS YEAR DIFFERENT? This was a circled year for Trinity. The team was nearly all underclassmen when it won its state title last year and returned almost its entire starting offense and defense. With a senior-led offensive line and a cast of incredibly talented junior skill players, the offense entered the year experienced and a well-oiled machine. The defense has special players on each level and can stuff the run and limit passing attacks.

WHAT WE HAVE SEEN SO FAR: Right now, it is a lot of excitement based on name wins that is hard to evaluate. Brentwood Academy, which Trinity beat 45-7, is a very young team and it may not have been ready to open with Trinity (it has since won three straight and is looking impressive). Montgomery Bell Academy, which Trinity bettered 66-21, is just 1-3 with losses to Brentwood Academy and Chattanooga Baylor. Its off-season was full of turmoil and this could be a long season for MBA. Cincinnati Elder, which fell to Trinity 56-7, was 2-0 entering the game and was playing at home, but this team was expected to be the No. 3 team in its division. It is a strong win but not a defining win.

WHAT WE ARE LOOKING FOR: Trinity to take it to the next level and beat Cincinnati St. X. Kentucky is a state that could be identified with the Southern region, but its best teams are in Louisville and so it is compared to Ohio - and placed in the Lakes region - and measured specifically by the battles between Cincinnati and Louisville teams. Trinity is just 1-3 in its last four meetings with St. Xavier, losing its last two by a combined 60-23. For the Shamrocks to take the next step nationally, they need to beat St. Xavier and not just Elder. From there, they must stay the course and not have a letdown game. After St. X, Trinity will head home to play Indianapolis Cathedral - a team that has already lined up against fellow Lakes region foe Indianapolis Warren Central. A regular-season ender with Cincinnati Moeller also must be a win as there isn't a team in Kentucky that can stay within 20 points of this year's Trinity team.

WHAT IS THE CEILING? A RivalsHigh 100 national championship is a very real possibility for this team. If it runs the table, Trinity will have the coaching, the players and the schedule to compare with anyone. As with any team in the rankings, it is not just that you win the games but how - and for a team from a non-power state, it will need one of the games between St. X and Moeller to be quite impressive and for those teams to do work in the Ohio playoffs. Indianapolis Cathedral is expected to win its state title and Brentwood Academy could contend in Tennessee. All of those bonus points will help set this team ahead of many others.

Top 100 breakdown
No. 5 Gaffney (S.C.) High

COACH: Dan Jones
STATE TITLES: 16, last state title was in 2006
HIGHEST END OF SEASON RANKING: No. 29 in 2006, following a 15-0 state title winning season
LAST END OF SEASON RANKING: No. 29 in 2006, following a 15-0 state title winning season

WHY IS THIS YEAR DIFFERENT? Now in his second year as the head coach, long-time defensive assistant Dan Jones has the Indians refocused and playing at another level. He has been able to get the kids, parents and other assistants to buy back into the program that was headed on a down trend following a successful run in the mid-2000s that saw it win three state titles. This quick of a turnaround was a little surprising but the results speak for themselves so far.

WHAT WE HAVE SEEN SO FAR: We have seen a totally different Gaffney team from just a year ago: Last year the team started out 1-2, holding off Boiling Springs for a 21-14 win and then losing to Dorman (21-12) and Greenwood (10-7). This season, the team has blown the doors off of all of its opponents and avenged those two losses. It beat Boiling Springs, 47-0, Dorman, 35-14, and Greenwood, 47-21. It had its second-string players in before halftime of its fourth win, 62-10 over Union County. While Dorman and Greenwood may not be as strong as they were last year, turning narrow defeats into blowout wins is impressive.

WHAT WE ARE LOOKING FOR: Gaffney already has a recent win over Byrnes, last season a surprise 26-16 victory over an injured Rebels team. This season, the game will be in Byrnes, where the Rebels are very tough to beat. A big win would be very impressive. The season-ender on the road against Spartanburg will also be a tough test. Freddy Brown is one of the better and certainly most intense coaches in South Carolina and that could be a matchup of undefeated teams playing for a district title. The Palmetto State has been on the rise in high school football and rolling through this year undefeated would be impressive.

WHAT IS THE CEILING? A RivalsHigh 100 national championship may be harder to achieve for this team without a lot of help, but it is not impossible. It will all have to start with running the table and winning a state title - however, that would be without out-of-state competition. But with a much more shallow playoff pool than potential undefeated teams from Florida, Texas or many other states, finishing inside the Top Five would be a strong goal and accomplishment. Last season, Rock Hill (S.C.) Northwestern finished the season at No. 5 in the nation and helped continue to keep South Carolina on the major national high school football landscape. Gaffney has something very special going on through four games and will need to continue to play stellar defense to move up the rankings.

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