Green Sea Floyds will be going for a second consecutive Class A state championship on Friday when it takes on Ridge Spring-Monetta at Benedict College in Columbia.
And in order to get the full story on this Trojans vs. Trojans matchup, we linked up with Aiken Standard sports reporter Kyle Dawson. He’s covered high school football for a decade and has been a full-time staffer at the Standard for five years.
In that time, he’s been a regular honoree by the South Carolina Press Association — he earned three nods in different categories in last year’s contest alone — and has become an authority on the teams in the Aiken area.
You can check out Dawson’s work at www.aikenstandard.com or follow his Twitter feed @ItsKyleDawson.
MYHORRYNEWS: Ridge Spring-Monetta is a team that was ranked No. 7 in the preseason media poll but took a few lumps along the way that left it in and out of the Class A Top 10. What was the biggest obstacle this team had to overcome to make this type of a playoff run?
KYLE DAWSON: The first major obstacle was having to replace a lot of production on the offensive and defensive lines. Head coach Brian Smith said coming into the season that he had some linemen that had good size, but very little or no experience. Those young players have obviously gained a lot of experience over the course of the season, and RS-M wouldn't be here without their improved play in the previous two games against teams — Blackville-Hilda and Wagener-Salley — that bully the opposition in the trenches. There was one other big reason the Trojans won the last two weeks, and that's the other major obstacle they had to overcome — injuries. Sophomore quarterback Remedee Leaphart's absence was the most notable one during those two Region 3-A losses, but there were other key players missing from those games. They've been healthy during this playoff run, which is why they're here.
MHN: What is the feeling around those Trojans as they get set to take on the Trojans who are defending a state championship? What does the knowledge of taking down Wagener-Salley do to that?
KD: Taking down Wagener-Salley was just a continuation of what they've been doing the last few weeks. RS-M has had to hit the road for the last three weeks and play as an underdog by seed, and two of those opponents were area rivals that blew them out during the regular season. They've kept it business-like and focused, and the wins have followed. Knocking off Wagener-Salley, their undefeated county rival, was obviously a major high for this program – but they've had to come down from highs the last few weeks in order to get ready for the next game, and they're approaching this one the same way.
MHN: Brian Smith is in his first year at RS-M, which makes winning 10 games that much more impressive. What has he brought to the table for a team that was obviously fairly talented when he was hired?
KD: I think, primarily, Smith has brought big-program and big-game experience to RS-M. He was hired so late that this group is doing things much like last year under previous head coach Kenny Lipsey, and he's utilizing those same strengths that have made the Trojans a perennial threat to make a deep playoff run. Smith's experience in state semifinals and state championship games at Greer and Strom Thurmond is something that I think will especially come in handy this week – these kids haven't been there, but he and some of his assistants (most notably Devonne Quattlebaum, who quarterbacked RS-M's 2006 state runner-up team) know what needs to be done beyond just scheme and play calls.
MHN: Remedee Leaphart threw for more than 200 yards and pair of touchdowns last week in the lower state championship game. What is the ceiling for this talented sophomore?
KD: Remedee Leaphart has the potential to be one of the most potent offensive weapons to come through our area in a long time – his ability to extend plays and throw the deep ball makes him a total game-changer. At the Class A level, we see our fair share of athletic QBs who can throw it a long way, but Leaphart can put the ball on the money and looks to make those throws rather than take off at the first sign of pressure. He took most of the snaps last year as a freshman, so he doesn't play like the typical sophomore. He's already tough for opposing coaches to prepare for – he has the potential to make that pretty much impossible.
MHN: What is something that could happen early in this game that would let everyone in attendance know that RS-M isn’t going to get too caught up in the situation at hand?
KD: There are things — an early score or big hit — that can show everyone that RS-M came to Benedict to play. But as far as showing everyone that the moment isn't too big, I'd say look for their first response to adversity. Whether that's a stop on a make-or-break drive, a score when they absolutely have to have it, a long run when there's been nowhere to run all night, a turnover forced in a crucial spot, even something like a stopped two-point conversion — those are the types of responses they've made over the last few weeks to extend their season, and those will be the things I look for as ways they can prove this stage isn't too big for them.