COLUMBIA — Goals have been realized for two of the area's high school football teams, and their biggest dreams are only a few days away.
Monday was their first true opportunity to get into state championship mode, as members of the Ridge Spring-Monetta and Barnwell football programs met with the media and the state's other eight finalists for the South Carolina High School League's press conference at Williams-Brice Stadium.
"It's just a dream come true, honestly," said Ridge Spring-Monetta senior running back and linebacker Collier Sullivan. "We just came in and worked over the summer – no spring practice, came in with a new coach, and we just grinded over the summer. We all had the same goal from the beginning."
Reaching the state championship game is a goal shared throughout the state, but only 10 teams meet it each year. In RS-M's case, the Trojans' game Friday night against defending champs Green Sea Floyds is their first Class A title game appearance since 2006. For Barnwell, it's a return trip to face Saluda after running into a buzzsaw last year against Abbeville.
The Class AA game is up first, scheduled for a 5 p.m. kick Friday night. The Class A game will follow and is scheduled for an 8 p.m. start.
The Warhorses (14-0) have done plenty of winning over the last four years, reaching the Class AA Lower State championship game each season. Now all that's left to do is win the only game they haven't won yet.
"All that's got to mean something," head coach Dwayne Garrick said, referring to a 51-5 record for the senior class. "That experience has got to mean something for them as players, playing in big games in big atmospheres."
The last time the played under the bright lights at Benedict College, the Warhorses left with a sour taste in their mouths – but they also left with what would become a driving force for this year's run.
"Last year, you could definitely tell the difference where we were behind in the weight room," said senior lineman Briggs Kearse, who described the challenge issued during the offseason. "... 'You've got to go in there with the mentality that you got whipped last year because you weren't strong enough, you weren't physical.' A lot of guys bought into it, and you can tell now just that the physicality has changed. I feel like now we're more sound in that area."
This time around, though, the Warhorses will face Saluda, which stunned Abbeville in the Upper State finals.
While there will be no repeat champion in Class AA, RS-M (10-4) will do its best to make sure Green Sea Floyds doesn't retain the Class A crown. That they're facing the defending champs isn't something that intimidates head coach Brian Smith and company.
"I mean, they won state last year. I think, Coach (Donnie Kiefer) would probably tell you, they're chasing the dream we're chasing," Smith said. "They've got one, but that team's gone. They've got some great players back, and they're a good football team. He knows it. There's nothing we can say about it. Each year's different. We're glad to be here, and I'm sure glad to be here. We're both chasing the same dream. That's why we all dream as kids. That's why we still dream now."