Batesburg-Leesville and Silver Bluff are no strangers to each other when it comes to playoff matchups. The two teams have met a total of six times in the playoffs, including two in state championship games. Silver Bluff holds a 4-2 advantage in playoff matchups and will be looking to win its third state title game over the Panthers in the series history. Based on the way the teams’ seasons have gone, fans who make the trip to Columbia could be in for another close game.


The last two state championship games to feature the programs each ended in one-point victories for Silver Bluff.


The Panthers’ high-powered offense and stout run defense have them on a 10-game win steak and will be the key to the game for head coach Jerry Brown’s team. Batesburg-Leesville has given up more than 200 yards rushing only three times this season. Silver Bluff’s offense relies heavily on the ground game, which is anchored by Shaquez Wright and RJ Stallings. However, the Panthers have had success stopping the run game because of their big men on the defensive line and the improvements they’ve made throughout the season.


“We went to a defense that was much more suited to 3-4, to our defensive front. Easier to adjust,” Brown said. “Very effective but very simple. … Put our feet to the fire defensively, and it finally started taking. We’re much more improved defensively.”


Brown had to make adjustments to his coaching style to turn the defense around. The coach said that defensive struggles were the most troubling thing about the 2012 season, which ended with the Panthers finishing 5-6. This year Brown has focused more on defensive fundamentals.


“I had to get more involved in defense than I ever wanted to be,” Brown said. “I’ve always been more of an offensive guy.”


The change in approach paid off this season. The Panthers’ defense was in full effect in last week’s game against Chesnee as they shut out the Eagles in the second half.


Junior Paul McKiever and senior Isaiah Cullum have been forces of the Panthers. McKiever is second on the team in tackles with 53, and he has 21 tackles for loss. Cullum, a 6-foot-6 275 pound lineman, has recorded 12 tackles for a loss and six sacks. Cullum agreed that it has been easy to adjust to Brown’s defensive instructions. The lineman will have their hands full dealing with the Bulldog’s tandem.


On offense, Batesburg-Leesville has its own pair of 1000-yard rushers. Rickie Smith and Terrance Wilson have led the Panthers’ triple-option attack. Smith has rushed for a team-high 1,385 yards and 11 touchdowns. His partner in the backfield, Wilson, has made an impact not only in the run game, with 1,157 and 23 rushing touchdowns, but he leads the team in receiving and has four touchdowns on kickoff returns this season. The sophomore is 131 yards shy of the Batesburg-Leesville sophomore rushing record. The Panthers expect to use the same formula in the title game.


“We do what we do best, and that’s always been running the football,” Brown said. “To be successful in anything, you have to have commitment and sacrifice.”


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


At a glance


WHAT: Class AA, Division II state championship game


WHO: Silver Bluff (12-1) vs. Batesburg-Leesville (11-2)


WHERE: Benedict College, Columbia


WHEN: 5:30 p.m., Friday


LAST MEETING: Silver Bluff won 21-20 in the 2001 Class AA state championship game


FRIDAY SENDOFF

The football team will leave Silver Bluff High School at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, and they will be recognized on their way to Columbia. Students and faculty will line Bulldog Drive as the Silver Bluff NJROTC and Silver Spirit Marching Band lead the football team off campus with a parade.