WINNSBORO — Fairfield Central’s (11-0) football team is three wins away from hoisting a state championship trophy. This week, the Bulldogs of Newberry (9-3) out of Region II-AA are standing in their way.
The undefeated Griffins will host Newberry in the Class AA Division I quarterfinals game, with the winner punching their ticket to the upperstate championship game.
These two teams are not strangers. In the all-time series, the Griffins and Bulldogs have met 17 times, with the Griffins winning 10 times. The most recent was last year’s 28-21 overtime win in the upperstate championship, which vaulted Fairfield Central to the state title game.
Head coach Demetrius Davis thinks Newberry is a better team than the one his Griffins faced last year.
“They’re (Newberry) just big in every position,” he said. “They line up and plan to push their opponents around the football field. There is no question Newberry will have a size advantage over us.”
Davis noted that his team will still have to “do what they do.” To combat the size of Newberry, Davis said his team will have to use its speed and technique.
“This will be a physical football game,” he stated. “But we have to be fundamentally sound and we have to use what our advantage is (speed). Hopefully, we will be able to counter their size with our speed. They’re not the first team that has been bigger than us.”
Westwood (Aug. 30) and Chester (Sept. 13) were bigger than the Griffins, according to Davis. Fairfield Central won both of those games by a combined score of 85-52, allowing 26 points in both games. Those 26 points is a season high allowed by the Fairfield defense.
Davis said his staff has not changed the game plan for a bigger Newberry opponent, but instead have emphasized the need to execute better on offense by finishing drives with touchdowns and cutting back on penalties.
“We are not going to change what we do,” Davis stated. “We’re going to do what we do. We’re going to be fundamentally sound and take care of the football. We’re prepared for a tough football game that will probably be decided in the last couple minutes of the game.”
It has been Fairfield Central’s goal all season to reach the state title game again for a shot at redemption. The Griffins opened up the 2013 playoffs with a 26-0 win over region rival Keenan last week.
The Griffins totaled 293 yards on offense, while holding Keenan to just 44 yards. DeAndre Belton rushed for 72 yards and threw for another 78, including a 30-yard touchdown to Compton Walker.
Belton, the senior quarterback, has led the Fairfield attack most of the year. On the ground he has totaled 620 yards and seven scores, to go along with 1,416 passing yards and 12 touchdowns.
Last week, Newberry pushed past Pendleton 21-9. The Bulldog defense did not allow a touchdown and were led by Jaylen Caldwell’s 91 rushing yards and one touchdown on offense.
Two weeks ago, in the opening round of the playoffs, Newberry beat Carolina 36-14. Newberry finished third in Region II-AA. Taking the region crown was Batesburg-Leesville (9-2, 5-0) and finishing second was Ninety Six (9-2, 4-1).
Newberry’s three losses came from Batesburg-Leesville, Ninety Six and Union County (2-8).
“Those (Batesburg-Leesville and Ninety Six) are very good football teams and the common denominator is that they run the triple option scheme which keeps everyone equal,” Davis noted.
Both Batesburg-Leesville and Ninety Six are still competing in the Class AA Division II playoffs. The Union County loss is possibly the low-point of Newberry’s season. Fairfield Central defeated Union County 35-11.
Another common opponent between Newberry and Fairfield is Abbeville. The Griffins beat Abbeville 42-6 and Newberry won by a score of 21-0.
Davis said that Newberry is possibly one of the best special teams teams they have faced all season and the Griffins have worked on execution and correcting penalties this week.
“We had to change the sense of urgency,” he stated. “We were getting a little lackadaisical and a little too relaxed. As a coaching staff we had to increase the sense of urgency this week in practice and emphasize the need to finish drives with a touchdown. At the end of the day it comes down to doing the little things right and playing fundamentally sound football.”
A popular mantra to winning football games in the post-season is run the football, stop the run and protect the football. According to Davis, one of the top keys to winning tonight will be stopping the Newberry rushing attack.
“In my mind the upperstate championship is tonight,” he said. “That is the way we need to attack this thing and get it done.”
The winner of tonight’s game will go on to face either Pelion or Cheraw in the upperstate championship next week. Kickoff at E.K. Mclendon Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m. You can listen to a live broadcast on 102.7 FM.