COLUMBIA — With the table set for the high school football championship games this weekend, the S.C. High School League held a press conference Monday for each each school’s representatives in Columbia at the SCHSL office.
In classification AA the Wildcats of Dillon (11-2) are pitted against the Griffins of Fairfield Central (13-0), in a rematch of last year’s title game. Last season Dillon dashed Fairfield’s hopes of becoming state champs by beating the Griffins 21-6.
“We felt very fortunate to win last year,” Dillon head coach Jackie Hayes said at the press conference. “We knew going into this season that Fairfield had a great shot at getting back to this point and we told our team the whole time that we will have to work hard and continue to get better because Fairfield was going to be waiting on us.”
In last year’s game, the Griffins were plagued by uncharacteristic turnovers and a battering running game by Dillon. After a scoreless first half, Dillon held on for a 21-6 victory.
Fairfield Central head coach Demetrius Davis believes the score could have been worse, because the Wildcats fumbled twice inside the Fairfield five-yard line.
“We go beat up pretty good,” Davis noted. “I don’t think the score really reflects how bad they (Dillon) really beat us up last season.”
After standing on the sideline last year and watching Dillon celebrate, Davis said he still has that vivid picture in his mind to this day.
“I think that was motivation for us to go and work a little harder, pay attention to details and do the little things right,” he stated. “Last year the lights were bright for our kids and we were happy to be there, but this year we’re more motivated.”
When asked if he thought Dillon would be waiting in the state title game, Davis replied that he undoubtedly thought they would.
“No question about it,” he said. “I personally believe Dillon is the the best team in the state. No doubts about it that Dillon is the real deal.”
With the rematch set, Hayes said it was a true accomplishment by both squads to return to the title game.
“I don’t think a lot of people really understand how hard it is to get back to this point,” he stated. “At some point in the season there are going to be a lot of ups and downs, and you question yourself if you have the ability to get back to the championship game. Fortunately for us at Dillon we were able to do that.”
Some of those ups and downs for Dillon included a season opening 27-21 loss to Mallard Creek out of North Carolina. Mallard Creek is ranked 14th in the country by maxpreps and are playing in the North Carolina semi-finals this weekend.
The Wildcats’ other loss — 27-6 — came from Marlboro County. Marlboro County’s season ended in the South Carolina state semi-finals last weekend.
Hayes has compiled a 249-50 record during his 22 seasons at Dillon. He won the AA state title in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2012.
Hayes noted some of the differences of his team from last year include a better defense, but an offensive line that lost two starters to NCAA Division I football last year.
“We’re not quite as good up front as we were last year,”he said. “Although I think we’re a little bit better at quarterback with Avery McCall in his second season.”
As a freshman, McCall was the starter in last year’s state title game. He threw three touchdowns in the game from 24, 27 and 33 yards out. Defensively the Wildcats are allowing just 5.6 points per game and have pitched eight shutouts.
On the Griffins’ side, they’ve given up 10.5 points per game and shut out four opponents. Davis was pleased that quarterback DeAndre Belton and “Mr. Do It All” — Compton Walker — were returning to their second straight state title appearance.
“Having these guys as seniors and the opportunity to have played in this game last year, I think does make us a little better than last year,” Davis noted. “DeAndre and Compton have been great players last year and this year. DeAndre is in his second year as a starting quarterback and Compton (Walker) can do it all. He is our chief cook and dishwasher. He does it all for us.”
Walker not only plays defensive back and wide receiver, but he also returns kicks, punts and is the place kicker.
Fairfield will play Dillon on Friday at Benedict College. Kickoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. Advance tickets will be sold at Fairfield Central High School until 3:30 p.m. the day of the game. All tickets are $10. Parking passes can also be bought in advance for $10.