Hurricane Florence is still wreaking havoc on the Pee Dee region of South Carolina and while a game against Hartsville would have been a lot of fun, that community is still far from returning to normalcy. Horry, Georgetown and Darlington Counties have taken a beating and they are still battling flood waters and all of the tragedy that ensues. Some things are bigger than football and we will continually keep those communities in our thoughts and prayers.
For us though, finally, it’s game week. It seems like it’s been six months since the Panthers strapped on that Block A helmet and faced an opponent on the gridiron. A much needed bye week on September 14th, followed by the Hartsville cancellation on the 21st has kept the Panthers on the practice fields, and out from under the Friday night spotlight. This Friday, a familiar foe will come to town. Hite Stadium will be open for business as we welcome in the Batesburg-Leesville Panthers. B-L and Abbeville have faced each other 42 times, dating back to the 1950’s. The overall record couldn’t get any closer as both Panther teams have won 21 times each. The next win will obviously break the all-time tie in a series that has produced some classics. Who can forget the Upperstate Championship game in 2000. Played in a driving rain storm, Matt Hagen kicks his only field goal of the season and sends A-Town to Columbia with a 3-0 win. And God rest his soul, Layfatte Miller’s last second score that sent Hite Stadium into a frenzy and gave Abbeville a huge come from behind win. Batesburg-Leesville beat Abbeville at home in the Upperstate Championship game in 2003. That was also the last game that SC Football Hall of Fame head coach Dennis Botts ever coached. History, tradition and a good spirited rivalry is what makes this game that we love, so special. Let’s look at this year’s match-up.
Unlike Abbeville, B-L has had some coaching turnover. From 1992 til 2012 B-L had two coaches. Phil Strickland (92-02) and Courtney McInnis (03-11). Since 2012, head coach Gary Adams is the third coach to lead the purple Panthers. Perry Woolbright led B-L to the State Championship game in 2016 and then left for 5A Lexington the next year. Speaking of state championships, B-L claims 7 state titles in their history (27-28-79-95-99-05-13). This season they are 2-2 with wins over Ridge Springs Monetta and Mid Carolina. Their two losses were to Gilbert, and a shootout with Newberry (41-39). The Purple Panthers like to spread it out on offense. You’ll see three and four wide receiver sets most of the night. They use an “H-Back” as a lead blocker on most running plays and they try to stretch you with long passes to open up their running game. Quarterback #1 Ke’shoun Williams can throw it around the ball field as good as anyone. B-L uses slants and quick screen passes to keep defenses moving side to side before laying it out there 30 or 40 yards. #9 Tay Wilson is the running back that often splits out as a slot receiver, he’s joined by #10 DT Jackson. Jackson is a 6’4″ junior that when paired up with #11 Shauntrel Hendrix, becomes a deadly duo on the edges for the B-L Panthers. On the season B-L averages scoring 27.5 points per game while giving up 28.5 points per game on defense. Coincidentally, B-L hasn’t played in two weeks either. Their bye week was also followed by a cancellation against Lexington.
The hometown Panthers are just itching to play a game. Just line somebody up and let’s play. That seemed to be the mood around the locker room earlier this week. When talking to head coach Jamie Nickles, he stated that “The guys should be fully rested and ready to go. We’re just glad to be back home and ready to get this one started.” When asked about their schedule during the layoff, he said “We practiced six days during the last two weeks. It’s almost like when I played back in the 80’s. You practiced for a month before that first jamboree. You thought that jamboree would never get here. That’s where we are, just ready to get to gameday.”
The Panthers are 4-0 on the season. They are unanimously ranked #1 in AA and currently ranked 4th regardless of classification in the state of SC. The Panthers are averaging 50.2 points per game offensively, while giving up 11.2 points per game on defense, including back to back shut outs to start the season. Junior quarterback JD Moore leads
the Panther offense that is averaging 322 yards rushing per game. He’s also tossed 6 touchdowns this year. Moore also leads all rushers with 438 yards and 8 rushing TD’s. The Panther defense has been crazy good this year. They have twice as many turnovers, as their opponents have third down conversions. Think about that for a minute. They have forced 13 turnovers this season, and they’ve only given up 6 third down conversions. Insane. Tyreke Campbell leads the team in tackles with 35. Nate Temple leads the team in sacks with four and Carson Smith leads the team in tackles for loss with six. Add in one of the best kickers in the state in Dylan Beauford, and you’ve got one talented football team.
The rivalry will be renewed this Friday at 730pm. Remember that Hite Stadium has a clear bag policy in place with no exceptions, so get there early to avoid long lines. This is the region opener, and a huge game with playoff seedings at stake. Check back next week for a full review and a look ahead to the Panthers Thursday night contest at Fox Creek. As always…
God Bless and Go Panthers!