You don't have to win a state title for your team to reach its full potential.
When his team was 1-2, Allendale-Fairfax coach Barry Avant was frustrated. But the Tigers kept getting better each week and hit their stride in the playoffs.
For his efforts on getting the Tigers on the right track and in the Class AA state championship game, Avant is The Augusta Chronicle's South Carolina Coach of the Year.
Allendale-Fairfax (11-4) won eight straight games, including three consecutive on the road against Class AA top 10 teams, to reach the Class AA state championship game for the first time since integration. The school lost a Class B title in 1967 and won a Class B crown in 1943 as Allendale.
"I know a lot of people were surprised we reached the state championship game but I wasn't," Avant said. "Our goal has always been the state championship. We came up a little short but I'm very, very proud of our players. They worked extremely hard this season to get where they wanted to go."
The Tigers showed their first glimpse of coming around in a 31-24 road win over Silver Bluff in Week 9.
Allendale-Fairfax, unranked in the Class AA polls, opened the playoffs with a surprising 52-6 home win over perennial Class AA power Swansea. The Tigers then beat No. 5 Baptist Hill, unbeaten No. 4 Mullins and No. 3 defending Class AA state champion Batesburg-Leesville for the Lower State championship.
It's the wins over Mullins in overtime and Batesburg-Leesville in the final 10 seconds that Avant will remember.
"We were in some absolute wars those two weeks," Avant said. "These kids were very poised in some tough environments."No. 1 Abbeville would prove to be too much in the final as the Tigers' Cinderella run came to an end, 35-0. Avant made no excuses even though he had several key players, including tailback Moris Flowers and linebacker Kenneth Harney, who did not practice leading up to the championship game and who played hurt in the finals.
"Abbeville was probably the best Class AA team I've ever seen," Avant said. "We were beaten by a better football team."
Avant, 37, said he was just glad to be part of the journey to the state final in just his third year. The Tigers were 6-4 and 7-4 in his first two seasons.
The Tigers' success helped community morale on and off the field. The players were honored in church and a huge crowd from the Allendale area followed the team on the road in the playoffs.
"What these kids accomplished this season is something they can remember for the rest of their lives," Avant said.