Tidbits -September 24, 2020

TIDBITS by RALPH SHEALY


FOOTBALL TIME...
  Last year, my column before the first Saluda High game started this way:
  “You’re going to enjoy watching this year’s Saluda Tigers play, unless you like a “three yards and a cloud of dust” offense.
  You won’t be seeing that.
  The Tigers will be striking fast, throwing the ball all over the place.”
  Boy, was I right. Didn’t we enjoy seeing the 2019 Tigers play? We watched all the way to the State Championship game, and we watched them hold up the state title trophy after the 39-14 win over previously unbeaten Barnwell.
  It was Saluda High’s first state championship since 1963, but longtime Tiger fans will tell you if Abbeville didn’t exist, the Tigers would have won three or four championships in the last five years.
  The second best team in  Class A in Saluda’s state championship teams in 1962 and 1963 was Bettis Herlong’s Strom Thurmond team, but with only the conference champion making the play-offs back then, the Rebels stayed home.
  Saluda’s Abbeville jinx ended with the Tigers beating the Panthers 32-28 in the Upperstate Championship game, setting up the first trip to the state championship game in 56 years.
  What about this year?  Who knows?!!!
  I can’t tell you how fun the 2020 Tigers will  be to watch, because I haven’t seen them play. In a normal world, I would have seen the Tigers play in several scrimmages by now. I haven’t seen any. The only scrimmage schedule for Saluda was cancelled when a Union player got COVID-19.
  Like all fans, I’m going to learn as I go.
  The Tigers lost 21 seniors off last year’s team. Saluda has had other seasons when they lost as many seniors, but the 2019 team was different. They were state champs, and most of the seniors were really good. Like those ‘63 and ‘63 champs, the team was filled with All-Region, All-Lakelands and All-State players.
  So, does Saluda reload like Abbeville does every year?
  Yes, the Tigers have plenty of talented players. The problem will be most of the starters are underclassmen. That set’s up for a championship challenger next year.
  You don’t replace quarterback Noah Bell or wide receiver Dallan Wright, who set records that will probably never  be broken. We said the same thing about record setting running back Malik Brooks in 2016. The Tigers didn’t replace him, but they won a state championship without him three years later. The Tiger coaches adjusted to the strength, and that strength was chunking the ball.
  This year? Like I said, I don’t know. Who will be the players who make tremendous improvement from the year before.
  I’ve mentioned before Jervon Whitt caught two passes as a junior. Last year he caught 49 passes for 17 touchdowns. Jacob McCary played mostly mop duty as an underclassmen. Last year, he was All-State at linebacker.
  I guarantee you’ll see similar improvements in some players on the 2020 team.
  The year the Tigers play in a new conference, and Abbeville “ain’t” in it.
  That’s not saying the conference will be weak by any stretch of the imagination.
  Newberry drops down from 3A. Years ago, when the Bulldogs dropped down from 3A into Saluda’s conference, then Saluda High principal Jimmy Crawford said, “any school located in a town with a college and a Walmart shouldn’t be in 2A!”
  Any team coached by Phil Strickland is going to be good.
  Remember the B&L quarterback, who led the Panthers to a last minute upset of the Tigers last year? He’s now playing for Gray Collegiate. The War Eagles should be really strong.
  Despite not having the QB from last year, you can never count B&L out.
  The other two teams in the league are Eau Claire and Columbia. The Tigers were the same conference with the Shamrocks in the 2016 and 2017 seasons. I may be wrong, but I don’t recall Saluda ever playing Columbia.
  With the shortened season, only two teams from each conference will make the playoffs, compared to the normal four. If only two teams from each conference had gone last year, the third seed Tigers would not have made the playoffs, much less won the championship.
  I’m looking forward to the season, but you won’t get in predictions out if me. Even after the Tigers pulled their miracle win over Strom Thurmond in the first game last season, thoughts of a state championship never entered my mind.
  I’ve enjoyed  the college season so far. With so many conferences opting out of the season, it has opened the door for lesser known teams to get coverage. I’ve watched Coastal Carolina play twice. ESPN even came to Conway Friday for its featured game. That wouldn’t happen in a normal year.
  Clemson has really been impressive. Only Notre Dame will be a challenge on the Tiger schedule.
  We’ll see what Carolina has Saturday when the Gamecocks host Tennessee. Carolina is a lot like Saluda. You won’t know how good they are until you see them play.
  Collin Hill will get the start at quarterback. He followed Mike Bobo from Colorado State. The only thing I know about him is his hair is about a long as Trevor Lawrence’s.
  My prayer is that the virus stays away from the teams, coaches and fans, and we can get these much needed, morale booster seasons completed.
  We need football!