COLUMBIA — A special picture hangs on the wall at Silver Bluff coach Al Lown’s home.
It’s from the 2001 state championship game, and Lown is shaking his father’s hand. The two are looking at the scoreboard after Lown’s Bulldogs defeated Batesburg-Leesville for the Class AA title.
“It’s pretty cool,” Lown said. “I like that one.”
Lown’s father, Buren, graduated from Batesburg-Leesville, where he starred in football. After serving in World War II and finishing his degree at Newberry College, the elder Lown was coach at Batesburg-Leesville for two seasons. He was 5-13-2 in the 1950 and 1951 seasons.
Those connections will come full circle Friday when Silver Bluff takes on Batesburg-Leesville in the Class AA Division II championship game. Kickoff is set for 5:30 p.m. at Benedict College in Columbia.
Lown reminisced Monday about the connections between the two schools during a news conference for the championship game at the South Carolina High School League office.
After getting out of coaching, Buren Lown came to North Augusta and became principal of Paul Knox Junior High and then became superintendent of the North Augusta Area II schools.
“I think he always regretted not getting back into coaching,” Lown said of his father, who died in 2010.
Silver Bluff and Batesburg-Leesville have a strong history even though they’ve only met 10 times. Six of those games occurred in the playoffs, and twice they were for state championships. The Bulldogs won both of those games in 1986 and 2001.
“We’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for Batesburg and the long tradition of good football,” Lown said. “I hope the game lives up to the last one, it’ll be great.”
In the 2001 title game, played at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, Silver Bluff led 21-14 late in the game. But the Panthers marched downfield and scored a touchdown with 24 seconds to play.
Rather than kicking the extra point and head into overtime, Batesburg-Leesville coach Phil Strickland went for two. Silver Bluff only had 10 players on the field, but got enough pressure on quarterback Rob Bouknight that his pass fell incomplete.
The 21-20 win capped a second perfect season for Silver Bluff as the Bulldogs won back-to-back championships and put together a 30-game winning streak. The last team to beat Silver Bluff before the streak? Naturally, it was Batesburg-Leesville in the 1999 Lower State finals.
“That was everything you could want in a state championship game,” Lown said.
That 2001 game was the last time the two schools met. Batesburg-Leesville won a state championship in 2005, while Silver Bluff fell in the Lower State finals the past two seasons.
Both teams enter the game with lengthy winning streaks. Silver Bluff has won 12 in a row, while Batesburg-Leesville has reeled off 10 consecutive victories. Their common opponent is Strom Thurmond, and both lost to the Rebels on the road.
Both teams feature strong running attacks as the Bulldogs go with their Wing-T formation and the Panthers run the triple option. Both coaches said Monday that improved defense was the key to reaching the title game.
“The most troubling thing last year was the lack of
defensive fundamentals,” said Batesburg-Leesville coach Jerry Brown, who came out of retirement to coach the Panthers. “I had to get more involved with defense than I ever wanted to be. This year we’ve gotten better defensively.”
Lown said the Bulldogs have improved in the second half of the season. Silver Bluff hasn’t allowed more than 16 points in its past eight games. Stopping the Panthers, and fullback Rickie Smith, will be a challenge.
“I think one good thing for us is that our players basically line up in the same place,” Lown said. “It’s going to be tough and will require a lot of assignment football. You can’t do a whole lot of changing this time of year.”