PETTICOAT JUNCTION, S.C. - Shawn Harris has been the leader of Al Lown's defense since he stepped on the field last season as a sophomore.
But when Silver Bluff (14-0) takes on Abbeville (12-2) in Saturday's Class AA state championship game (5 p.m., Williams-Brice Stadium), the 6-foot-0, 185-pound junior linebacker will have to lead by inspiration.
Harris suffered a broken hand in last Tuesday's practice and missed the Bulldogs' 21-14 Lower State title victory over Barnwell. After negative test results Monday, Harris' chances of playing in Silver Bluff's first state title appearance since 1991, is out the window.
"He's definitely the heart and soul of this defense," Lown said. "He's the kind of guy that sets the tempo by his hustling and aggressiveness. It hurts. Barnwell did a good job of attacking us at his side. We didn't have but one day to prepare last week. We've got a whole week to regroup. Other guys just have to step up."
Harris finished his sophomore season with a team-high 144 tackles on the 13-1 squad. He came back even better this season, earning more than 160 tackles through the first 13 games. The junior called all of Silver Bluff's defensive sets and was instrumental in holding opponents to 4.7 points per game.
Now, if the Bulldogs are going to maintain their stingy ways and walk away with the school's fourth state championship, Harris' teammates will have to step up. The signal-calling duties fall on the shoulders of junior Todd Simmons, Harris' side kick at linebacker.
"I gave them a little pep talk before the game," Harris said during the Barnwell contest. "They'll be OK. Todd can handle it."
Simmons has had a breakout year, racking up more than 130 tackles this season. The 5-foot-10, 180 pounder drew some concern from the coaching staff at the beginning of the season, but has erased all reservations with stellar play.
"We questioned whether he could play middle linebacker," Lown said. "But he's been a big boost. We need him big time to step up even more now. The good thing about this defense is that there are other guys who can play."
The Bulldogs' most energetic player up front is defensive end Adrian Henderson, who at 5-foot-10, 180-pounds, runs a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash. Utilizing his speed and his strength, the senior has registered an area-high 17 sacks for Silver Bluff.
"His motor never stops running," Lown said. "He's got a lot of stuff packed into 180 pounds. His motivation is firing off the ball as quick as he can every time. That's a lot of speed at the defensive end slot."
With Harris' injury, Lown will be forced to play Marcus Lawrence more at the other defensive end spot. Lawrence has played sparingly on defense after posting a standout season at fullback, where he's tallied more than 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground.
Super sophomore Deangelo Bryant can look for even more action with the injury to starting tight end/punter Ross Sullivan. Sullivan tore his anterior collateral ligament against Barnwell, which will force Bryant into playing tight end.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound safety leads the team with six interceptions and also returns punts and kickoffs, holds for extra points and is a part-time receiver.
Reach Patrick Green at (803) 648-1395.