ABBEVILLE – The Panthers took their second bye of the season last week and now await a Saluda Tiger team that gave Abbeville Head Football Coach Jamie Nickles’ team fits several weeks ago.
Saluda, 6-5 after a 40-21 victory over Landrum in the first round of the Class AA (Division II) playoffs, now finds itself making a return trip to Hite Stadium in second-round action Friday night.
Abbeville (8-2 and ranked sixth in the state) has had a week to regroup after a last minute loss to Ninety Six, 21-20, in the regular season finale.
While the loss to Ninety Six did nothing to alter Abbeville’s playoff seeding or tarnish its Class AA, Region 2 championship, it did drop the Panthers from first to sixth in the S.C. Prep Media Poll rankings.
Rankings aside, the two-time defending Class A state champions know what this time of year means – lose and you’re out.
The Tigers proved very competitive against the Panthers when they met in a conference game Oct. 12. In that contest, Abbeville used O’Bryan Wilson’s 166 yards rushing and key defensive plays to outlast Saluda, 21-7.
The Panther defense was superb in the contest, limiting the Tigers to less than 100 yards on the ground and less than 200 yards of total offense for the game. Abbeville held Saluda to 62 yards of total offense in the second half.
Almost the entire second half was played on Saluda’s end of the field and the Tigers ran only 12 plays from scrimmage in the last two quarters. Saluda’s last play was an interception by Abbeville senior linebacker Brieyon Brown.
Nickles said the Panthers are “beat to smitherings at every position on the field.” Wilson suffered a shoulder injury in the Ninety Six game and sat out most of the second half, but Nickles said the senior running back has been practicing and should play this week.
The Abbeville coach said his team has worked a lot on fundamentals during practice. “When you’re playing a well-coached team, it will be a challenge for us,” Nickles said. “I expect the same type battle with them this time, without question.”
Nickles said he’d rather not play a team that Abbeville has already beaten in the second round of the playoffs, but “it is what it is.”
The Panthers need to continue to get better if they are going to advance, he said.
“This is a tough matchup,” Nickles said. “It’s the fourth season – sudden death – lose and you go home.”
That is not something that Abbeville has become accustomed to during its march to two straight state championships. The Panthers have won seven consecutive playoff games and last lost to Pageland Central in 2009.
Kickoff for the second-round Class AA playoff matchup between Abbeville and Saluda is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Hite Stadium on Dennis Botts Field.