PETTICOAT JUNCTION — The scene at Silver Bluff High School after a Friday night football game resembles a large family reunion.
Fans pour onto the field after the game and seek out their favorite Bulldogs. The opposing team gathers on one end, and Silver Bluff’s coaches and players mill around at the other.
At the center of it all is Al Lown. The veteran football coach usually goes through the handshake line, then talks to the media before addressing his team.
At some point Lown’s wife, Mary, will make her way over. If schedules permit, his children also will join him on the field.
Lown, The Augusta Chronicle’s All-Area South Carolina Coach of the Year, guided the Bulldogs to the state championship game this season. Silver Bluff lost to Batesburg-Leesville, 28-24, in the Class AA Division II title game in Columbia.
His wife joined him on the field and shared a moment with Lown after the Bulldogs’ season ended when a pass was intercepted at the goal line.
“(She said) that she was proud of me,” Lown said.
Lown knows he is fortunate to have that type of support.
“If you don’t have a good family behind you, you can just forget it,” he said. “She knows if I have to take a kid home, or if something comes up, it’s not a 9 to 5 type of job.
“You’ve got to have a family and wife at home that understands that. If you don’t you’re sunk. I’m very lucky.”
SILVER BLUFF DID not win its sixth state championship, but the Bulldogs were just a play away.
It was a philosophy that Lown and his staff drilled into the team following consecutive defeats in the Lower State championship game. The 2011 and 2012 season-ending losses only made Lown and his staff work harder.
“We knew with the team we had coming back, if we stayed healthy, and everybody worked hard we’d have a shot at it,” Lown said.
The Bulldogs opened the 2013 season on the road with a loss at Strom Thurmond. Then Silver Bluff reeled off nine consecutive wins en route to winning the Region 5-AA title. After a first-round bye, the Bulldogs defeated three more teams to reach the championship game.
“It was really the unfolding of a story that’s been happening a couple of years now,” Lown said. “We won a couple of close games that went our way, but it was really a plan, a goal, and everyone working toward it for a whole year.”
LOWN, WHO SAW his team lose 28-24, said he was not disappointed with its effort.
“It was painful. It hurt not to win the state championship,” he said. “But were we disappointed in what we had done Friday night? No. We weren’t disappointed. We played as hard as we could play. It was a great night for the Silver Bluff school and community.”
The four-year mark for this year’s seniors included 42 wins, three region titles and an appearance in the state title game.
“We’ve been real close,” Lown said.
SUCCESS IN FOOTBALL has been a constant at Silver Bluff. Lown was on the staff as an assistant to Clayton Chriswell when the program began in 1981, then left in 1985 to go to his alma mater as an assistant at North Augusta.
He returned as head coach of the Bulldogs in 1993, and he led Silver Bluff to consecutive 15-0 seasons and state titles in 2000 and 2001.
Lown won his 200th game in Silver Bluff’s Lower State title game victory against Bamberg-Ehrhardt. In 21 seasons, he’s won at a clip just below 10 games per season.
“The great thing for me... was the three guys I coached under had all won state championships,” Lown said. “Clayton Chriswell, Hubert Morris and Bill Utsey. We won one at North Augusta when I was there. So I learned a lot from those guys.”
Lown is also quick to give credit to his assistants. His top two lieutenants, Keith Radford and Eric Hofstetter, have been with him all 21 years he’s been the head coach at Silver Bluff. “That makes it pretty easy,” he said. “The key for us is not the fact that we’re friends, but we share the same principles as how things have to be run.”
Now Lown, 57, has a decision to make. Does he continue to coach, or does he let someone else take over the reins at Silver Bluff?
He points to Batesburg-Leesville coach Jerry Brown. He retired after success at Berkeley, then was lured to the Panthers’ job because he missed coaching.
“I’ve talked to Coach Brown about it. He retired and couldn’t get it out of his blood,” Lown said. “I want to make sure when I do it. I’m going to take the holiday break and get some time off, think about it, and make sure I make the right decision.”