Richland Northeast defeated South Aiken 28-21 in overtime last season.
Players to watch
• Bo Baldwin, QB. Baldwin is a difference-maker for the Thoroughbreds when he plays. The problem is he’s missed significant time the past two seasons because of injuries, including a broken right hand – his passing hand – early in last year’s loss to Richland Northeast.
• Rasool Clemons, DE/WR. Clemons burst on the scene as one of the area’s best defensive linemen last season. Now he’s looking to do the same as a receiver while still terrorizing opposing quarterbacks.
• Will Holbrook, TE/LB. Holbrook figures to be a pivotal player on both sides of the ball, serving as a sixth offensive lineman and reliable pass catcher while also leading the T-Bred defense, making reads and getting his players lined up properly.
• Simeon Kelley, QB. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound former defensive end is making the move to quarterback this season and will have to maximize his physical skills since the Cavaliers lost most of their top skill players in 2012 to graduation.
• Zaaviea Blyther-Wright, OT. The massive tackle (6-4, 275) is part of a beefy offensive line that’s returning all five starters from a year ago and will look to buy Kelley time and push the T-Breds around.
• Brien Washington, LB. Washington is the Cavaliers’ top returning tackler from a year ago, where he made 54 stops as a safety. He’ll make the switch to part of the front seven and look to maintain a good nose for the ball.
What this means
This is the season opener for both squads and the first chance for both to officially put disappointing 2012 campaigns behind them. Neither South Aiken nor Richland Northeast qualified for the playoffs, coming close but missing out on playing in the postseason in spite of loftier expectations.
The T-Breds will also be looking for some pay back. They lost to the Cavs in last season’s 2012 opener, falling behind big early and losing Baldwin to an injury that would put him on the shelf for the next six weeks. With Holbrook at quarterback, South Aiken rallied before falling in overtime, extending what turned out to be a 16-game losing skid.
Getting off to a good start could have a long-term positive effect for the winner. South Aiken is trying to establish itself as a legitimate playoff contender and needs to enjoy some success to make that more realistic. The T-Breds play such a daunting non-region schedule, that this might be the most winnable game in the first half of the season, an opportunity they don’t want to squander against a Cav squad that’s in transition and looking to start it’s final season in Class AAAA on a good note.
Ridge Spring-Monetta at Pelion
Last time they played
Ridge Spring-Monetta defeated Pelion 46-22 last season.
Players to watch
• Reggie Preston, QB. Preston finished last year as one of the area’s top passers and will look to compound on that success this season.
• Travious Wigfall, RB. Wigfall will line up in the backfield this season after spending last year at receiver. He’s one of the most talented players on the offensive side of the ball and will be a big part of the Special Teams
• Mello Harris, DL/LB. The Trojans will use Harris on the offensive and defensive line as well as at outside linebacker. He’s a physical player who has a nose for the ball.
• Zack Hawkins, QB. Hawkins threw for more than 1,200 yards last season.
• Freddie Phillips, WR. Phillips is one of the Panther premier playmakers. He is likely to be the go-to guy in the passing game and be an asset at other positions on the field.
• Octavius Green, DE. At 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds Green is certain to be a big factor in many games for Pelion,
What this means
Heath Corley will be back for his second season as head coach at Ridge Spring-Monetta and with more familiarity should come better results. Last season the Trojans were able to take care of Pelion pretty easily but they aren’t looking at the game as a sure win this year. They will be using it as an early tune up for their offense and defense.
Venerable coach Ben Freeman will be looking to return Pelion to the success of his early years with the team. Much like the Trojans, Pelion is looking to bounce back from a 4-7 season.
Keys to the game
Establishing a good mix on offense will be a big part of Ridge Spring-Monetta’s gameplan.
“We’re going to do what we always try to do when we get out their,” head coach Heath Corley said. “We have to be sharp with our execution that is the main thing.”
The coaching staff doesn’t plan to put any extra pressure on Preston to make plays. However, he does recognize his strong arm and plans to utilize it.
“We’re not going to make him throw too much but there will be those two or three plays that he just absolutely has to make,” Corley said of his quarterback.
Corley added that he plans on playing defense by executing on offense. The Panthers have made a few changes to their offense and Corley would like to do all he can to prevent them from have many cracks at scoring.
The second year coach also stressed the adjustments the players will have to make playing in the season opener.
“We’ve been telling them that they have to understand that it’s going to be a much longer contest than what they’ve been going through,” Corley said. “It will be a completely different atmosphere they will have the responsibility make the adjustments that coaches have been telling them to make up until this point.”
What they’re saying
“I’d love to run every snap if I could. That’s just me and how I like to coach but I know you need balance.” Heath Corley