NORTH AUGUSTA - The Aiken County Jamboree tonight at North Augusta High may look more like regular-season matchups than preseason warmups.
It has the power matchups, not to mention injuries, to prove it.
Silver Bluff and Aiken will square off in the second quarter, pitting two of the state's top teams together for 18 minutes. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 in Class AA, while the Hornets are Class AAAA's No. 3-ranked team.
The action will begin at 7 p.m. with Ridge Spring-Monetta clashing against South Aiken in the first quarter, followed by the Bulldogs and Hornets. Midland Valley will take on Williston-Elko in the third quarter, and North Augusta battles Wagener-Salley in the fourth.
"Our top guys are looking good," Silver Bluff coach Al Lown said. "Obviously, Aiken will be a good test for us, but we're not looking for a war with them. Right now, we just want to cut down on our penalties. We've had too many mental mistakes in our scrimmages so far."
Aiken wide receiver Brian Staley is one of the state's top prospects, and he will get a tough early test, taking on defensive back Maurice Duncan, who earned all-state honors a year ago after collecting 10 interceptions, returning three for scores.
The matchup between the clubs, who combined for a 25-4 record last season, loses some of its luster with both squads continuing to heal from injuries.
Aiken's top defensive lineman, Eric Stroman, is recovering from a pulled muscle, while the Bulldogs' top defensive lineman, Marcus Lawrence, is doubtful because of a strained Achilles suffered in a scrimmage with Midland Valley on Tuesday.
Silver Bluff's flashy junior running back, Joe Wilson, also is doubtful after turning his right ankle in the scrimmage.
The Bulldogs' sturdy defense will get a strong grading marker when they try to halt the Hornets run-by-committee power attack, which features senior running back Antwan Smith.
North Augusta will have to wait a while before it unleashes its new offense, which is without Wake Forest signee Anthony Young and 1,000-yard rusher Jamal Johnson.
Junior speedster Reggie Merriweather is out with a strained knee and fullback Brian Moore is sidelined with a strained anterior collateral ligament. The Yellow Jackets' top offensive lineman, Clayton Dyson, will miss tonight's action with a sprained ankle.
Sterling Howell, who will start at quarterback after converting from wide receiver, might slide to tailback due to the injuries. That would force the Jackets to thrust talented freshman Andre Young in at quarterback.
"He's just a freshman, but he's very, very smooth," Long said of Anthony's younger brother. "He's not ready, but he looks good. We're pretty banged up. Hopefully it's not as bad as we think it is. Sterling has been strong for us and we'll continue to rely on the seniors for leadership."
Where: North Augusta High
Cost: $5 per person
Format: Four 18-minute quarters.
First quarter: Ridge Spring-Monetta vs. South Aiken
Second quarter: Silver Bluff vs. Aiken
Third quarter: Midland Valley vs. Williston-Elko
Fourth quarter: North Augusta vs. Wagener-Salley