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By Travis Jenkins
Landmark News Service
Blackville-Hilda is in for a surprise today.
The Fighting Hawks knew they would be battling 40 or so players dressed in red and black, but they probably had no idea they’d have to take on an entire town.
As the Great Falls Red Devils prepare for their first shot at a state title in 16 years, the level of excitement around the already football-crazy town has been ratcheted up. Red Devils supporters aren’t just lending their vocal support though, they’re pitching in.
“This is the biggest thing going in Great Falls,” coach Kenneth Schofield said. “The community has been unbelievable.”
Friends of the football program provided the 11-2 Red Devils with a meal at the school on Thursday, before boarding a bus to stay in a hotel near the stadium and had breakfast before heading to the field for warm-ups.
All the support is appreciated, Schofield said, and will be needed when Great Falls meets Blackville-Hilda (10-3) for the Division II-A state title at O.C. Dawson Stadium on the campus of South Carolina State University in Orangeburg today at noon.
“At this stage of the season, you’re going to see the best,” Schofield said. “And they are good. They’re extremely big up front. They’ll be the most physical team that we’ve played this year.”
Schofield said the Hawks front line features a pair of 300-pounders. Running behind that massive line is a stable of talented and fast skill players.
”Their speed in the backfield is tremendous,” Schofield said. “It isn’t a case where you can just focus your efforts on one guy. They have a number of players that can hurt you.”
Blackville-Hilda is a lot like Great Falls, in that it spreads the ball around pretty evenly. Running back Joe Thomas is the leading rusher, while Desmond Brown is the leading touchdown-maker. Hawks coach David Berry said his players have accepted his team-first philosophy.
“We may have a game where one guy gets 18 or so carries, but the next week someone else gets more opportunities,” Berry said. “They all compliment each other very well.”
The Hawks’ offense has been solid, posting more than 22 points per game this year. Where the team really shines though, is on the other side of the ball. Blackville-Hilda has yielded only 9.6 points-per-game and has three shut-outs.
“What we tell our kids is if you don’t get scored on, you can’t get beat,” Berry said.
Schofield said he was impressed that the Hawks had put up such impressive numbers against such stiff competition.
“They come from a black-and-blue region just like we do,” Schofield said. “The fact that they play with Bamberg and Allendale and Williston says a lot.”
Berry was similarly impressed with the Red Devils.
“They are a very good team with a lot of talented players,” Berry said. “Their team speed is impressive.”
Berry’s bunch made it to the state title game two years ago, and lost to eventual state champ Lakeview last year in the lower state title game. Schofield said that would give the team a bit of an advantage since many Hawks players have experienced a state title atmosphere before.
“Great Falls has only made it to the upper state title game four times,” Schofield said. “This is the third time going to state. We’re breathing some rarefied air. We want to enjoy it, but we also have to stay focused on the task at hand.”
To prepare for the game, Schofield had his team practicing at noon during the week to adjust to playing in the heat and daylight the game will be played in. He said he hoped the program would reach a point where playing this late into the year would be commonplace.
For the time being though, he said he just wanted to make the community proud.
“We look at it as we’re representing the school and the town,” Schofield said. “And we want to represent them well.”
Today, the team and town are one-in-the-same.