BAMBERG - The Bamberg-Ehrhardt Red Raiders (13-1), the Class 2A Lower State Champions, will square off with the two-time defending state champon Abbeville Panthers (13-1) for the SCHSL Class 2A state title on Friday at Benedict College’s Charley Johnson Stadium.
The 5 p.m. game will be a rematch of a game played between the two schools in 2010, when the Panthers won the first of back-to-back state titles.
In an interview on Tuesday morning at B-E High School, Red Raiders coach Kevin “Butch” Crosby talked about how this year’s B-E football team differed from the 2010 squad.
Crosby said this year’s team is “a little more seasoned” with more seniors than in 2010.
“We actually played with a lot of younger guys in 2010," Crosby said. "On this year’s team, we have 22 seniors that have been in the program.
"That’s the biggest difference, the level of maturity these guys have compared to the team we took in 2010.”
Crosby noted that in 2010 the team was mostly just “happy and excited” it made it to the state championship game.
“They were happy to just get there; but this team is a little more mature, having been there as freshmen and now they’re back as seniors,” Crosby said.
He has stressed to the seniors that this is their chance to make history, having been to the state finals twice before and not winning it.
“Can you change it? Can you make history on Friday?” Crosby said was the challenge he put to his seniors.
Crosby said this year, returning to the state final, the mindset is all about business. He wants his players to enjoy the day and enjoy the experience, but realize that at kickoff “we have a football game to play.”
“The ultimate goal for us is to keep our mindset on playing a football game on Friday and not get caught up in the hoopla,” he said.
On the progression of junior quarterback A.J. Williams, who played the position sparingly last year, Crosby said he let Williams know in the spring the team was in his hands. This season, Williams has passed 49-for-107 for 823 yards and five touchdowns, while adding 980 yards rushing and 16 rushing touchdowns on 168 carries.
“You’re going to be at the helm, we’re going to take some lumps and bruises early, but you’re the guy,” Crosby said he told Williams early, adding “ you’ve got to be a leader on and off the field and do things the right way.
"So he’s progressed well, has one more year left, and we're trusting that he will stay on course.”
Crosby also gave praise to the B-E offensive line in helping Williams to progress to the place he is now.
Crosby said that, going into this game, the offense can’t sit back and rely on the defense to pitch a shutout.
“We’ve got to put points on the board; the ultimate goal is every time we get the ball we’ve got to try to score and take the pressure off the defense,” he said.
B-E defensive coordinator Corey Crosby, who’s defense is leading the state by allowing just 5.6 points per game, says the B-E football program has long featured decent defenses. But he noted that this 2017 defense is “special,” although not necessarily from a talent standpoint.
”They trust in the system, they trust in the plan and execute the plan,” Corey Crosby said.
He recalls that in 2010 B-E had “a good defense” but Abbeville kind of “manhandled us on some stuff.”
That's why he is glad this squad doesn't care about who get the glory in the stats, but sees it as “you do your job, and I do my job and we all look great.”
Corey Crosby said the instruction they give their players is to dominate the first part of the game and finish in the fourth quarter, in what they call "the fourth quarter program.”
He noted the defense lost eight players from last year, but this group of kids started buying in back in the spring. He believes this year’s defensive line may be the most physical the program has had in a number of years.
On the B-E secondary, where senior standout defensive back Jerrald Manigault patrols with 13 interceptions, Corey Crosby said statistically-speaking, he’s never been around a group like this, one that "attacks the ball" and has grabbed 34 interceptions.
Senior offensive lineman Luke Harper said its a “great feeling” going back to the state finals. Senior linebacker Nick Hughes (selected to the 2017 Touchstone Energy North-South All-Star Football Game and the Annual S.C.vs GA Border Bowl All-Star Game) said “it's big.” Hughes (team-leading 184 tackles) said he and his teammates played “a little” in the Red Raiders most recent trip to the finals as freshmen, but now it means a lot more.
“It’s an accomplishment and we really want to play hard,” Hughes said.
Along with Hughes on defense, there’s senior linebacker/tailback James Gainyard, who is second on the team with 179 tackles. Senior defensive end Sa'Veon Butler has 119 tackles and defensive lineman DeJuan Sease is fourth with 111. Butler and Sease have combined for 30 sacks and 54 tackles for loss.
Ronny Maxwell of Bamberg, son of B-E legendary football coach Leon Maxwell and a prominent banker, said the people in the area kind of take it for granted because coach Kevin Crosby “always puts such a good team on the field.” Maxwell, who played quarterback for his father at B-E, said most folks don't know how hard it is to get this far.
“We take for granted us making the playoffs, but most people don’t realize how many things have to go your way and how many things you have to be prepared for and what these kids are responsible for to get this far," Maxwell said. "So its an amazing thing.”
However, Maxwell said his "beef” with the South Carolina High School League is that in a small community like Bamberg, the whole town is involved with the team. Yet, the SCHSL schedules a game at 5 p.m. in the middle of the state.
Maxwell said, at that time of day, working class parents in the community can’t get off from work to go to a football game. But their thoughts and prayers and support will be with the team.
“We are so proud of the football team and we support them 100 percent,” Maxwell said.
Shawn Hanks is sports editor of The Advertizer-Herald of Bamberg. Jerry E. Halmon is a correspondent for The Times and Democrat. He has covered B-E games regularly during this championship season.
Crosby to be
The South Carolina Football Coaches Association (SCFCA) will honor the 2017 Palmetto Champions All-Star Football Team at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 30 at Seawell’s in Columbia. The banquet will recognize 25 high school football players and 10 high school football coaches for their excellent performance this season.
In the SCHSL Class 2A Lower State ranks, Bamberg-Ehrhardt head coach Kevin "Butch" Crosby will be recognized.