Bulldogs plan to stick to tried-and-true formula
2012 in review
Last year marked another season in which Silver Bluff suffered a defeat in the Class AA, Division II Lower State championship game at the hands of Bishop England. The loss capped a pretty good year for the Bulldogs who posted their second 11-win season in three years.
The season was highlighted by the scrappy play of the Bulldogs during the region schedule and in the playoffs. The team went 7-0 against regional opponents, including two playoff victories. Silver Bluff’s run late in the season was complete with dominating wins and a few comeback victories.
Bamberg-Ehrhardt was a victim of Silver Bluff rallies twice, and Barnwell also took the brunt of a Bulldog comeback – both were a part of a seven-game win streak put together by the team.
Head coach Al Lown said the run his team put together is a blueprint for success in the upcoming campaign.
“We won four games by two points or less last year, and that’s what we have to be able to do – win those close games,” Lown said. “We’re going to have to fight and claw for four quarters.”
A quarterback by the name of Jaylen will once again be the signal caller for Silver Bluff, however, this season it will be Jaylen Lawrence. The senior, who made the All-Aiken Standard team last season as a defensive back will now play on both sides of the ball, filling the void left by Jalen Jackson.
Lawrence will have some big shoes to fill. Jackson finished last season among the top ten passers in the area, despite being in a system that required few passing opportunities.
Lawrence does have some experience at quarterback from his junior varsity days. He also served as Jackson’s back-up last year, but he was only called on to pass once, completing a pass for 10 yards.
While Lown admits he isn’t sure what to expect from Lawrence just yet, he is hoping his athleticism will help him adapt to being the full-time quarterback.
“He’s got to work a lot on his fundamentals. He’s not fundamentally where we want him to be yet, and he’s got to get used to facing a pass rush,” Lown said. “We know it’s going to take some time. He’s a good athlete, and how hard he wants to work at getting better fundamentally is going to determine how far he goes.”
The 6-foot-1 Lawrence will still have the responsibility of stopping the passing game on defense as well. He grabbed four interceptions last year, enough to put him in a tie for second most among area players, one behind Strom Thurmond’s Israel Talbert and Aiken’s Leon Simmons.
Another key contributor, Shaquez Wright, will be back in the fold for the Bulldogs to help take some of the pressure off of Lawrence. Wright ran for 1,217 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago and earned All-Aiken Standard second-team honors. RJ Stallings will also be in the backfield with Wright. Stallings ran for 603 yards and six touchdowns in 2012.
Lown has also had high praise for wingback/safety Jalen Douse. Now that Omari El has graduated, Douse is the leading tackler returning to the Bulldog defense. He finished the season with 86 tackles. He was also a factor defending the pass, as he recorded three interceptions.
Having the likes of Douse back is even more important for this season, considering the Bulldogs lost three linebackers who looked to be starters after spring.
Many of the offensive contributors will be the same this year. However, rising senior McKenzie Wilson will look to play a bigger role in the offense.
While most of the offensive personnel will be similar, the defensive side of the ball will be a different story.
The holes left in the Silver Bluff linebacker group has cleared the way for some of the younger players to step up and make an impact.
Tarron Jackson spent his freshman year at Silver Bluff playing basketball but will play football this season. Lown hopes Jackson will be able to step in and perform well at the linebacker position.
Games to watch
A season-opening trip to Johnston to take on 5-AAA powerhouse Strom Thurmond should prove to be a big test for the Bulldogs. Following that game, Silver Bluff will stay on the road for a matchup with Aiken, who was one of the teams Silver Bluff was able to edge out in a close win a year ago.
Week two will mark the start of a three-game homestand that features two Aiken county foes in Midland Valley and South Aiken.
The Bulldogs get a bye before facing Bamberg-Ehrhardt. The two teams produced a pair of thrilling games in 2012, both resulting in comeback wins by the home team, Silver Bluff. This year, the Red Raiders will host the game.
In week 10, Silver Bluff will look to extend its current six-game win streak over rival Barnwell. The Warhorses had their season ended by the Bulldogs last year.
At the conclusion of last season, Lown said Bishop England’s ability to stop the run game was ultimately what cost them. This year, the Bulldogs will be back with a similar run-heavy offensive attack. Lown doesn’t expect the offense to skip a beat with Lawrence under center.
“We’re not going to really change a whole bunch that we’re doing. We’ve been doing things the same way for a long time,” the head coach said. “It’s a matter of (Lawrence) fitting his ability in with our offense.”
The team will still run the Wing-T offense, and Lown added some pistol-formation plays to the offense as well.
The 3-5 defensive scheme will be back in effect again this season. Lown feels good about the group he has up front but has some concerns elsewhere.
Kwimane Lawrence, John Smith and Tarquez Johnson were all expected at one point to be starting linbackers for the upcoming season. Over the course of a few months, they all transferred.
“We’re hunting for linebackers over here,” Lown said. “Linebacker is our key; we’ve got to have someone step up.”
Lown also expressed some concern about depth at the defensive back position. He is confident in the ability of the players he has returning, but all of the defensive backs also play on the offensive side of the ball at running back or quarterback.
One major change for the Silver Bluff team will be in the kicking game. Last season, Pedro Zambrano handled the kicking duty, and he even lifted the Bulldogs to a victory over Bamberg-Ehrhardt in week five with a 40-yard field goal.
Now that Zambrano has graduated, senior Nicholas Casares will take over the job as place kicker.
RJ Stallings will be returning punts and kickoffs for the Bulldogs.
Lown’s squad returns a good group of players; however, depth is the main issue facing Silver Bluff heading into the season. Many of the players will see action on both sides of the ball through the year.
“Our players know we’re going to have to be physically and mentally tough because we don’t have many bodies,” Lown said. “We’re not going to outnumber people; we’re going to have to win games by a lot of intangible things.”
Although the team was able to win games with intangibles last season, Lown added that it remains to be seen if the current group of Bulldogs can pull off the same type of year. He feels it will be difficult to win 11 games again this year.
“A lot of teams got better, and we won a lot of close games last year,” he said. “We play too hard of a schedule to predict a number we want to win. We want to put ourselves in position to win the state championship. That’s the goal.”
Eric Russell covers sports for the Aiken Standard. He graduated from USC Aiken in 2012 with a degree in communications.
•Silver Bluff 14, Aiken 13
•Silver Bluff 60, Southside Christian 7
•Silver Bluff 30, South Aiken 6
•Silver Bluff 17, Midland Valley 7
•Strom Thurmond 42, Silver Bluff 14
•Silver Bluff 31, Bamberg-Ehrhardt 29*
•Silver Bluff 35, Wade Hampton 7*
•Silver Bluff 28, Edisto 19*
•Silver Bluff 42, Calhoun County 14*
•Silver Bluff 28, Barnwell 27*
•Silver Bluff 17, Barnwell 0**
•Silver Bluff 14, Bamberg-Ehrhardt 13**
•Bishop England 42, Silver Bluff 7**
* Region 5-AA game
** Playoff game
Aug. 23 at Strom Thurmond
Aug. 30 at Aiken
Sept. 6 vs. Southside Christian
Sept. 13 vs. South Aiken
Sept. 20 vs. Midland Valley
Sept. 27 Bye
Oct. 4 at Bamberg-Ehrhardt*
Oct. 11 vs. Wade Hampton*
Oct. 18 vs. Edisto*
Oct. 25 vs. Calhoun County*
Nov. 1 at Barnwell*
* Region 5-AA game
AUG. 9: South Aiken
AUG. 10: Fox Creek
AUG. 11: Strom Thurmond
AUG. 12: Williston-Elko
AUG. 13: North Augusta
TODAY: Silver Bluff
MONDAY: Midland Valley
TUESDAY: Ridge Spring-Monetta
AUG. 21: Wardlaw