Most Panther fans had two games circled with a big red marker when the schedule was announced in the spring. The first game was versus Lincoln Co. The second game was Hartsville. That game is upon us and you can feel the excitement building in the air as we inch ever so close to kickoff this coming Friday night.
Last season the Panthers came into the neutral site game at Newberry College as a 27 point underdog to the 4A Red Foxes. The Panthers trailed 21-7 in the first half before unleashing an offensive explosion and ultimately whipping the Red Foxes by a final of 32-21. This season, the odds makers have the Panthers as a 4 point favorite heading into this non-region matchup. The Panthers and the Red Foxes are two of the most decorated high school football teams in the state. Hartsville is led by head coach Jeff Calabrese, who holds a career record of 124-36 over his 12 years at the helm. Hartsville is 4-1 on the season. The lone loss was a 35-21 defeat at Conway. Hartsville has won in a lot of different ways this season. A touchdown as time expired propelled them over South Florence. They’ve blown out a couple teams and been in a couple of closer games as well. Hartsville is very similar to Abbeville in that they like to run the ball. They will line up under center 99% of the time and employ their version of the double wing option. Big, fast and physical are the only three adjectives that come to mind when describing the Red Foxes. Their offensive line averages 6’2″ 250lbs. Playing in 4A-Region 6 with the likes of Crestwood, Lugoff-Elgin, Lakewood and Darlington, this game is their last non-region contest of the season. Hartsville has four state championships in their trophy case (81′-87′-88′-12′) and they have played for three more since 2010. Most recently, last season. This season they average 30 points per game offensively while giving up 17.4 on defense. If there was ever a David vs Goliath narrative in a football game, this is the one. Hartsville has an enrollment just a shade over 1,400 students, while Abbeville’s enrollment is 487.
The Panthers, well, they don’t buy into the David and Goliath storyline. They stood toe to toe with the 4A powerhouse last season and came away victorious. This season, riding a wave of confidence, and a 29 game unbeaten streak, the Panthers are no longer the hunters. They are the hunted. The Panther offense led by quarterback Bryce Jackson and a pick your poison group of skill players, has shown that they can hang with anybody this season. Leading rusher Courtney Jackson has 512 yards rushing this season, complimented by 9 touchdowns. He sports an unbelievable 12.19 yards per carry. Nipping at the leading rushers heels is Junior Rapley with 439 yards and 5 touchdowns. The Panthers offense is averaging 45 points per game while only giving up 14.6. Defensively the Panthers have answered the bell each and every game. Leading tackler Malik Leach has 66 total tackles on the season, he’s recovered 2 fumbles and also has an interception. The A-Town defense will need to play fundamentally sound against a big, strong, option oriented Hartsville offense. The Panthers will be playing without budding sophomore star defensive end Carson Smith. He broke his hand last week versus Mid Carolina and is having surgery Thursday morning. The defensive line and linebackers will have to play a very smart, fast and physical game to limit the Red Fox offense, who can grind out first down after first down on the ground, while milking the game clock.
This is a big one. Can the Panthers do the impossible, again? Will the revenge card come into play? Can the Panthers keep the state’s longest unbeaten streak alive? You’ll find out Friday night at Newberry College. Kickoff is 7:30, with a donnybrook to follow.
Panther fans heading to Newberry; The Panther are the home team this time around, so sit on the home side, and get ready for an electric, playoff type atmosphere.
God Bless and Go Panthers!