PETTICOAT JUNCTION, S.C. - Silver Bluff head coach Al Lown knew last year that his offense could be unstoppable if it had just a few more weapons.
The eighth-year man always has been the shot caller on offense, dating back to his days as offensive coordinator for Bill Utsey on North Augusta's 1989 state championship team.
Eleven years later, Lown finally tasted glory as a head coach, leading the Bulldogs to an unblemished 15-0 mark after stopping Abbeville 28-21 in the Class AA state finals at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.
As formidable as Silver Bluff's offense proved to be, the defense proved just as potent. A major spark on both sides of the ball this season was Marcus Lawrence, a senior who starred at fullback and defensive lineman.
For their part in earning Silver Bluff's best-ever record, Lawrence and Lown have been named The Augusta Chronicle's player and coach of the year.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Lawrence bulldozed through defensive fronts and outrunning secondaries on his way to 1,345 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns on 210 carriesfor a 6.4 yard per carry average. Lawrence also reeled in two receiving touchdowns.
When he wasn't scoring, he was paving the way out of the backfield for junior scatbacks Joe Wilson and Troy Williamson, who both cleared 1,000 yards rushing. Lawrence, nicknamed "Truck" by his teammates, was deadly on offense, but his passion is for defense, where he had started since his freshman year.
At defensive end this season, he piled up 67 tackles, hurried the quarterback three times and returned a fumble for a touchdown. The senior started at defensive end in the North-South All Star Game in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and is being recruited by South Carolina, Auburn, North Carolina and Tennessee as a linebacker.
"I love defense, love the contact, love everything about it," Lawrence said. "But I would've played wherever the team needed me. I had goals coming into the season, and winning the state championship was No. 1. We had a lot of high expectations thrust on us and we wanted to live them out. I try to be a leader, but luckily I played with a team that had a roster full of leaders."
While Lawrence was the backbone of the offense, Silver Bluff hardly was a one-man show. The Bulldogs' offense averaged 35.2 points per game, scoring from all over the field, whereasa year ago, most of the scoring came from The Augusta Chronicle player of the year Marcus Jones.
Jones rushed for more than 1,800 yards and reached the end zone an area-high 30 times. The Bulldogs ran through the season unscathed, going 13-0 until meeting Batesburg-Leesville in the Lower State title game. The Panthers focused on Jones, shut him down and shut out Silver Bluff 23-0.
"We couldn't do much else, and Marcus (Jones) was a good shoulder to be on," Lown said. "We knew going into last year that being one-dimensional wasn't going to be good down the stretch. But Jamie (Williamson) hadn't really developed at quarterback. Joe (Wilson) was a sophomore, Marcus (Lawrence) was having to concentrate more on defense and Troy (Williamson) was still developing on junior varsity. That wasn't a problem this year. We weren't afraid to put the ball in the hands of any of them."
Silver Bluff hadthree rushers with more than 1,000 yards in Lawrence, Troy Williamson (1,203 yards, 12 TDs) and Wilson (1,060 yards, 17 TDs). Lown also wanted more production through the air, and he got it with Jamie Williamson,who threwfor 1,233 yards and 16 touchdowns.
"He did a great job of letting all of us use our talents," Jamie Williamson said of Lown. "He didn't bottle up anybody."
The diversified offense allowed Lown to explore more in the play-calling, which was most evident in the Lower State title game against Barnwell, when he signaled for a pass play to go straight up the middle to Wilson out of the backfield. With 47 seconds left and the game tied at 14, Lown's call developed into a 25-yard touchdown, and the Bulldogs celebrated a 21-14 victory.
"It was incredible to win that game and then go on to win the state title," Lown said. "We had a great defense, the coaching staff was hitting on all cylinders, and we stayed injury-free for the most part. I've always loved coaching the offense. My biggest obstacle as coach this year was keeping those four guys happy."
Reach Patrick Green at (803) 648-1395.