Abbeville is rich in history and tradition. That’s not exactly a bold statement or a new revelation. Just as sure as you’ll eat turkey and dressing on Thanksgiving, it’s become almost a safe bet that on the morning before you stuff your face, the Panther coaching staff will be orchestrating their yearly walk through inside Hite Stadium. That is good news for Panther players and fans alike, because that means that you’re playing for an Upperstate Championship. That is the case again this season, as the 12-1 Abbeville Panthers will host the 12-1 Saluda Tigers for the chance to play for the State Championship.
That last sentence should sound familiar. This will mark the 3rd consecutive season that the Upperstate Championship game will come down to a battle between the Panthers and the Tigers. Abbeville has won the previous two meetings 36-14 in 2015, and 21-16 last season. It’s a remarkable feat, the same two teams meeting for a chance to play for it all, for three straight years. It’s so rare that it’s never happened in the 100 year history of Abbeville football. This will be the 19th Upperstate Championship appearance for the Panthers since 1950 and the 7th for the Tigers in the same time frame.
Saluda has won 12 straight games this season after dropping their opener in Week Zero to Strom Thurmond 35-6. The Tigers cruised to a perfect 5-0 region record and captured the Region 3-AA championship and a #1 seed in the playoffs. The Tigers, led by head coach Stewart Young (36-14 overall record) in his 4th season has become a mainstay in the playoff conversation as of late. The Tigers are averaging 33.3 points per game while giving up 16.5 points per game defensively. Sophomore quarterback Noah Bell, a lefty, gets a lot of the attention with his dual threat skill set. However, the Saluda defense is the calling card of this team. Big, fast and physical are the words that Abbeville head coach Jamie Nickles used to describe the Tiger defense. The Tigers found their way to the Upperstate Championship game by defeating Pageland-Central 24-21 in round one. They beat rival Ninety Six 28-14 in the second round and knocked off Lee Central 30-26 last week in the Quarterfinals. They are now tasked with stopping the vaunted A-Bone offense and a Panther defense that is playing it’s best ball of the season.
The Panthers and Tigers are no strangers, not only in the playoffs, but they were once
region foes, and will be again next season after realignment. The Panthers hold a 29-15 all-time record vs. Saluda. Ten of Saluda’s 15 wins came before the 1970 season however and the Panthers have owned the series of late. The last Saluda win versus the Panthers came in the 2003 season, in a regular season matchup. The Panthers injuries have been well documented and slowly but surely, the Panthers should be getting most of their starters back in some capacity this week. Quarterback Bryce Jackson, who did not play last week, will be a game time decision. Sophomore JD Moore filled in nicely for the injured Jackson in last weeks 14-7 Quarterfinal win versus Cheraw. Moore carried the ball 22 times for 84 yards and commanded the offense well. It’ll take another complete team effort to make it back to Benedict College.
Hite Stadium will be rocking Friday night. The gates will open at 6pm and kickoff is at 7:30. The weather should be clear and chilly with temps dipping into the low 40’s. Parking will be available at Grace United Methodist for a donation. Get there early and be loud.
God Bless and Go Panthers!