PETTICOAT JUNCTION — Silver Bluff has nearly scaled the mountain the past two years. Now, the Bulldogs are trying to reach the top.
“We’re looking for a state championship,” tight end McKenzie Wilson said. “We’ve been to Lower State two years in a row and it’s about time to finish it off.”
The Bulldogs went 11-2 in 2012 and fell in the Class AA Division II Lower State championship game, 42-7, against Bishop England. The year before, the Battling Bishops eliminated Silver Bluff in the same round.
Coach Al Lown and the Bulldogs won state titles in 2000 and 2001. Reaching the apex again has proven tough, but Lown feels this year’s team has a decent shot.
“It’s the kind of team, we’ve got enough good football players if we don’t get hurt, I actually feel like we’ve got a better chance of winning state,” Lown said.
The coach’s confidence stems from depth on the offensive and defensive lines, where Gyasi Yeldell and James Jacks enter their fourth season as starters. Wilson, Avery Corbett and Alex Graham give the Bulldogs a solid nucleus in the trenches.
“You’ve got five out of six guys there that are starting for at least the third year,”
The Bulldogs lost quarterback Jalen Jackson to graduation, but he will be replaced by Jaylen Lawrence, who is moving from wide receiver.
“In our system, we don’t need him to win the game, we just need him to run the offense, and I think he’ll do a good job,” Lown said.
Running backs RJ Stallings, Miles Corbett and Shaquez Wright return.
On defense, Lown lost three of his inside linebackers with experience.
Another big loss for the Bulldogs is kicker Pedro Zambrano.
Lown expects the Bulldogs to contend for the Region 5-AA title again, but they will face stiff opposition from Bamberg-Ehrhardt and Edisto. The Bulldogs’ first two games are on the road at Strom Thurmond and Aiken.
“Thurmond’s going to have their new stadium, and Aiken’s got a new coach. I told the kids our hardest practice is going to be the Monday after we play Aiken,” Lown said. “If we’re 2-0, we can’t think we’re going to coast; if we’re 0-2, we can’t get down. Strom Thurmond’s loaded and we barely beat Aiken last year. How we approach that practice is going to be big psychologically for us.”