Postseason football might come with a built-in advantage to the home team, but state playoffs in the high school ranks rarely offer an easy game.
No team knows that better than Strom Thurmond High School, which has played at home 36 times over the past five seasons and walked off a winner in 32 of them.
But those four home losses, especially the three that came in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs, aren’t difficult for coach Lee Sawyer to remember.
“We’ve lost to Central twice here in the playoffs, and of course there was Wilson in ’07,” he said.
The memory of those heartbreaking defeats – all came by a touchdown or less – will hover over the home sideline tonight as Strom Thurmond tries to break the curse of four consecutive state quarterfinals exits.
The No. 2 Rebels will play host to No. 6 Emerald in the Class AA Division I state playoffs with a spot in the state semifinals up for grabs.
“I just feel like anytime you play at home, it’s an advantage. In the playoffs, the crowd is bigger and they’re in your favor,” he said. “We try to make it (a point of pride) like that, but we know it’s not a guarantee.”
While Strom Thurmond earned the third-round home game because of its undefeated regular season record, two Aiken County schools will be at home tonight thanks to earlier postseason upsets.
North Augusta, a No. 5 seed after falling a win shy of a regular-season region title, was set to go on the road in the second round of the Class AAAA Division II playoffs until No. 13 South Florence knocked off No. 4 West Florence in the first round, giving the Yellow Jackets a state quarterfinals home game.
Silver Bluff, a No. 3 seed in Class AA Division II, will play at home tonight after No. 2 Woodland fell to No. 7 Mullins last week. The Bulldogs will also play for a state semifinals appearance.
“That worked out real well for us,” coach Al Lown said. “I think it’s big. They’ve got to make a three-hour bus ride to get here, and that makes a difference.”
Of the four local South Carolina public school teams still alive – Williston-Elko will play at Christ Church tonight in the Class A Division I state semifinals – Silver Bluff is the surprise of the postseason. The Bulldogs sat at 3-3 earlier this year after losing three consecutive games, including a disappointing shutout against Midland Valley in what ended up being the Mustangs’ only win of the season.
But Silver Bluff has won five consecutive games since ending the losing streak, riding a defense that has allowed just six points over the past four weeks.
Mullins also has used a strong defensive effort to reach the state quarterfinals. The Auctioneers shutout Academic Magnet in the first round of the state playoffs and held a Woodland team averaging more than 45 points per game to just 14 in the second-round upset.
With a win tonight, teams can continue practicing through the Thanksgiving holiday, which is an inconvenient privilege.
“Practicing on Thanksgiving,” Lown said. “That’s something special.”