When Ridge Spring-Monetta (7-5) played host to Region 4-A rival Hunter-Kinard-Tyler (10-2) earlier this season, it ended with the visitors taking a 20-13 victory.

At the time, Ridge Spring-Monetta was 3-1, and the loss was the first of three for the team by one touchdown or less in the second half of the season. After that game, head coach Heath Corley said his team was a few big plays away from winning.

During the current playoff run, Ridge Spring-Monetta has been making those big plays – early and often. It’s a formula it expects to follow in tonight’s rematch with H-K-T in the Upper State championship of the Class A, Division I playoffs.

“They are a really good team and well-coached. We know (head coach Dan) Holland will have them ready,” Corley said. “We have to come ready to play. They’re not going to flinch because Ridge Spring-Monetta is coming in.”

Tonight’s game in Neeses marks the furthest Ridge Spring-Monetta has advanced in the playoffs since 2007, when it lost in the Upper State title game. While the team is excited, Corley said his players are a different breed when it comes to the attention of this round of the playoffs.

“We’re playing with a lot of confidence, but the kids also have a good sense of reality. We don’t get too wrapped up in the hype from the outside,” Corley said.

H-K-T’s having the most success it has seen in recent years. The team has 10 wins on the season and, as Corley noted, are nine points away from being unbeaten. It’s only losses were a 6-0 setback against region champion Williston-Elko and a 17-14 defeat to Edisto. The key to H-K-T’s success has been the same as the spark to Ridge Spring-Monetta’s playoff run. The defense for both teams has put up solid performances in recent weeks.

“We’ve picked up our defensive intensity,” Corley said. “We have created some turnovers, and any time you give Samuel (Bedenbaugh) and Travious (Wigfall) and those guys extra opportunities, it turns out good for us. It’s really no different from what H-K-T has done. Everybody talks about their offense, but their defense is probably the best one we’ve faced all season.”

In the teams’ last matchup, Ridge Spring-Monetta fell victim to that defense as H-K-T’s Mike Edwards picked off then quarterback Reggie Preston (now out for the season with a knee injury) three times. Corley said that taking care of the ball will be the biggest key in tonight’s game. He added that he’s confident the offense will do a much better job.

“We have to understand that a punt isn’t a bad thing,” Corley said. “We don’t have to force anything.”

Bedenbaugh and Wigfall have had the offense running smoothly. In five games as starting quarterback, Bedenbaugh has effectively managed the offense and limited mistakes, showing some of the things he learned when he played quarterback when he was younger. Meanwhile, Wigfall has continued to have big games rushing. Wigfall is the area’s leading rusher with 1,530 yards and 25 touchdowns.

One of the area’s former leading rushers, Jarius Jenkins, will lead the H-K-T’s offense. Jenkins missed the second half of H-K-T’s Sept. 20 victory with a leg injury, but he’s expected to be in full force tonight. He and quarterback Khaliq Anthony have been a big part of H-K-T’s offensive success this season.

Both teams have had their fair share of tightly contested games, and tonight’s Upper State title game could be the next.

Eric Russell covers sports for the Aiken Standard. He graduated from USC Aiken in 2012 with a degree in communications.

Tonight’s Game

What: Class A, Division II Upper State championship game

Who: Ridge Spring-Monetta (7-5) at Hunter-Kinard-Tyler (10-2)

Where: Neeses

When: 7:30 p.m.

Last time they played: H-K-T defeated Ridge Spring-Monetta 20-13 this season