Strom Thurmond (8-1, 4-0) at Midland Valley (6-3, 3-1)

Last time they played

Strom Thurmond defeated Midland Valley 42-0 last season.

Players to watch

Strom Thurmond

• Jauveer Hammond, QB. Hammond needs only 65 rushing yards to finish the regular season with 1,000 yards both passing and rushing, and his playmaking ability makes him a threat in any situation.

• Kendall Hill, WR. The Mustangs go to man coverage in red-zone situations, according to Rebel head coach Lee Sawyer, so Hill and the rest of the receivers will need to win their matchups to score.

• Tay Merriweather, OLB. Merriweather picked up his third interception of the season last week and, like the rest of the defense, will need to be on his toes against the Mustangs.

Midland Valley

• Daniel Carr, QB. Carr was knocked out in the first half of last week’s win over Airport with a shoulder sprain, but head coach Rick Knight said tonight his dual-threat quarterback is “good to go.”

• Dré Carr, RB. Dré Carr has been struggling with a groin strain for several games, but the Mustangs will need a big game from him to help move the chains and keep the ball away from Strom Thurmond.

• Xavier Leaphart, LB. To say Leaphart has a nose for the ball would be an understatement. The athletic junior is by fr the area’s leading tackler with 123 stops on the season and will have to be at his best against the Rebels’ versatile and tough ball carriers.

What this means

For the second year in a row, this game will help determine the Region 5-AAA champion. Both teams have clinched playoff spots, and the Rebels would clinch the region title outright with a win.

Sawyer said that he’s talked to the players more about each game’s implications later in the season.

“We try to approach it week to week once the region starts,” he said. “Then about after week three (of region play), we’ll start talking scenarios.”

Should the Mustangs win, they would win the region outright if Swansea loses its game against Gilbert. If both Midland Valley and Swansea win, it will be a three-way tie determined by points given up among the tied teams – with a cap.

“There’s a lot of steps,” Knight said. “We’ve got to do our part. If we do, it will all be settled.”

Keys to the game

Sawyer said that the Mustangs, with Daniel and Dré Carr in the backfield and Kameron Brown and Trenton Baughman out wide, have plenty of weapons.

“You’ve got to defend the whole field with them, and that quarterback is something special,” he said.

Further, Daniel Carr has the ability to have an “almost comical” effect on pursuing defenders in the backfield, and his receivers have shown the ability to keep routes alive and come back to the ball.

“It keeps your defense kind of on edge,” Sawyer said.

The Mustang defense has had it’s issues, but Sawyer said the unit does things, particularly its man defense in the red zone, that results in big stops when needed. Midland Valley got three interceptions in or near the end zone in last week’s 19-14 win over Airport.

“The thing about them that you’ve got to respect is they’ve found a way to win,” he said.

Knight said the game will hinge on his defense’s performance. He noted that the unit that was much maligned earlier in the season has made some changes and showed improvement, but it will need to be at its best tonight.

“We’ve got to control their quarterback and running backs. We can’t let them break free for big yardage,” Knight said. “Their quarterback is one of the best athletes in all South Carolina and they’re tough all the way around.”

Knight said it will also be critical for his offense to play keep away, maintaining possession of the ball with long drives. It won’t be easy against a tremendous Rebel defense that makes it near impossible for any opponent to run the ball effectively.

“I hope they get our best shot,” Knight said. “They’re Strom Thurmond, they’re the best program in AAA.”

What they’re saying

“Now that it’s here, we just focus on this game now, and this game being the one that wins it for us,” — Lee Sawyer, Strom Thurmond head coach

“This is the aim each year, to compete for the region. But we have to play our best game,” — Rick Knight, Midland Valley head coach

White Knoll (6-3, 1-2) at South Aiken (1-8, 0-3)

Last time they played

White Knoll defeated South Aiken 34-24 last season.

Players to watch

White Knoll

• Quin Jones, RB. Jones ran for 91 yards and a touchdown in the Timberwolves’ loss to North Augusta two weeks ago.

• E’Mond Brown, FB. Brown ran for a team-high 109 yards in last week’s 62-14 loss to Dutch Fork and teams with Jones for a powerful 1-2 punch.

• Christian Taylor, OL. At 6-foot-5 and about 330 pounds, Taylor has college offers Coastal Carolina, Marshall and N.C. State, and was selected to play in the North-South All-Star Football Game.

South Aiken

• Will Holbrook, LB. Holbrook has been all over the field for the T-Breds this season and will need to be again tonight as they try to stifle the Timberwolves’ power running game. Holbrook could be playing with a little extra pep after being selected to play in the North-South All-Star Football Game.

• Rasool Clemons, DE. The high-motor Clemons is among the T-Breds top tacklers this season from his spot along the defensive line – recording 52 stops, including 13 for a loss of yards.

• Adam Allen, RB/DB. Allen is second on the team in rushing with 482 yards and three touchdowns, he’s second in receiving with 230 yards and three more scores and has recorded 32 tackles to boot.

What this means

Both of these teams are fighting for their playoff lives, nearly an identical situation as a year ago. South Aiken took a double-digit lead into halftime but couldn’t sustain in it as White Knoll rallied for the win that helped propel it to the state semifinals.

“We played our best first half of football last year against them, then we played our worst half in the second half against them,” said Jeremy West, the T-Breds head coach. “Our season ended that night. White Knoll took advantage and went all the way to the Upper State championship while we were putting away gear. It was tough to swallow”

That change of fates could add extra motivation to South Aiken, which will be looking to snap an eight-game losing skid tonight as it hosts its homecoming game. Tonight’s winner will have the upper hand in playoff positioning, with the hope that finishing fourth in a competitive region and the accumulation of enough points will be enough for an at-large berth into the postseason. The loser will likely be on the outside looking in barring the unexpected.

Keys to the game

Both teams are run-first on offense and will look to establish control of the game on the ground. The Timberwolves operate out of two-back sets, either the I-Formation or a pro-style look. The T-Breds will have to have their best game defending the run in several weeks to compete for the win.

In their three region losses, the T-Breds have faced Dutch Fork, Lexington and North Augusta. All three are high-powered on offense and can fling the ball all over the field. Perhaps in an effort to minimize the damage in the passing game, South Aiken has overcompensated and left itself more vulnerable to the run. While White Knoll can do damage throwing the ball, their bread and butter is handing it to Quin and Brown.

“Quin Jones has had some career games against us,” West warned. “We haven’t been able to stop the run. They have a big line and a good fullback, we’ve got to stop the run.”

Another way to neutralize White Knoll’s running game is to make it play from behind. The T-Breds have struggled mightily in the first quarter this season, but if it can build an early lead and momentum, it could force the Timberwolves into uncomfortable positions.

What they’re saying

“We haven’t had a lead since we were up 10-7 going into the fourth quarter against Greenwood (on Aug. 30). I’d like to see us get the lead and see what we can do with it. We haven’t had one in a while,” — Jeremy West, South Aiken head coach

Silver Bluff (8-1, 4-0) at Barnwell (2-7, 1-3)

Last time they played

Silver Bluff defeated Barnwell 28-27 last season.

Players to watch

Silver Bluff

• Shaquez Wright, RB. Wright is closing in on 1,000 rushing yards for the season.

• Jalen Douse, DB. Douse has been known for his defensive play, but the Bulldogs have been increasing his role in the offensive gameplan recently.

• Jaylen Lawrence, QB. Lawerence had went completed all nine passes he attempted last week and finished the game with 183 yards.


• Jamari Dunbar, RB. Dunbar is a threat in the running game and passing game. He is one of the backs utilized in the Warhorses wishbone offense.

• William Barnes, QB. Barnes rushed for 100-plus yards when Barnwell snapped its losing streak two weeks ago against Calhoun County.

• Tyrin Williams, WR. Williams has the skills to make big plays whenever he touches the ball.

What this means

Silve Bluff has already wrapped up the Region 5-AA title and will be looking to finish a second consecutive regualar season with a 9-1 record. The Bulldogs have had success against Barnwell recently. They earned two victories last season including a shutout win in the playoffs.

Tonight’s game will be big momentum wise for the Bulldogs, who could have a bye in the first round of the playoffs.

“We’ve been in this position before. We’ve had the region locked up and haven’t played well,” Silver Bluff head coach Al Lown said. “We need to take care of business heading into the playoffs.”

Keys to the game

Silver Bluff’s defense will be facing a change of pace from what they have been facing this season. Barnwell will run the Wishbone instead of the spread offense some of the Bulldogs other opponents have this season.

“They’re real physical up front,” Lown said. “We’re going to have to contend with that for sure.”

On offense, Lown hopes his team rides the momentum it built last week. Jaylen Lawrence had his best performance of the season and some other things started to click for the Bulldogs to go along with their strong run game.

“Jalen Douse is really starting to produce for us more on offense. We’ve been trying to get him more involved so we’re hoping that continues,” Lown said.

What they’re saying

“Barnwell has always been our biggest game from a rivalry stand point. So our kids know it’s a big game for us.” — Al Lown, Silver Bluff head coach