ABBEVILLE – It has been a long season, fraught with challenges in opponents, physical ailments and other adversity.
But the Abbeville Panthers, the two-time defending Class A champion, will have a chance for a different kind of three-peat this week, as Abbeville was realigned into Class AA for the 2012 season.
Come Friday night, Abbeville will face off against the defending Class AA champion, Bishop England, in the Class AA Division II championship game at Benedict College in Columbia.
The Battling Bishops, 12-1 overall, 7-0 in region play, have won 11 games in a row, including last week’s 42-7 romp past Silver Bluff to win the Lower State Championship and earn the other berth in the Class AA, Division II, title game.
The Panthers, seeded second in the Upper State, downed Chesnee, 40-13, in the Upper State Championship game to earn its way into the Class AA Championship Game.
Both teams earned first-round byes for the playoffs. Abbeville also defeated Saluda, 6-3, and Chesterfield, 63-0. Bishop England also defeated Mullins, 52-8, and Lee Central, 31-22.
Abbeville Head Football Coach Jamie Nickles said last week’s victory over Chesnee was a “hard-fought football game,” but winning the turnover battle was key to the Panthers’ win.
That has been a familiar theme for Abbeville in the playoffs, as the Panthers intercepted five passes and recovered two fumbles the previous week against Chesterfield.
Nickles said while his team was operating on all cylinders against Chesterfield, the Panthers “had some holes and room for improvement” in their victory over Chesnee.
Abbeville will have its hands full in contending with a Bishop England squad that is “fundamentally sound in every phase of the game.”
“In all the film we’ve watched of them,” Nickles said, “we’ve never seen them miss a tackle.”
The coach said Bishop England has a stout offensive line and the Battling Bishops have a stable of fast running backs. “Their fullback and running backs can fly,” Nickles said.
He added that Bishop England has a kicker who is a three-year starter “who has been absolutely wonderful.”
The Abbeville coach said he has a tremendous amount of respect for Bishop England. “They’re just so good – so physical – they’re probably the most physical team we’ve played all year,” Nickles said.
The Panthers are focusing on preparation this week, said the coach. “Our coaches are burning the midnight oil watching film and giving us the best chance to win,” he said.
“Obviously, we’re going to have to beat a fine, fine football team, to win the championship,” Nickles said. “This time of year, nobody’s leaving (the football field) without a medal.”
Still, he is very clear about one thing – in the end, it is just another football game – another step in the direction that Nickles, his coaches and players started talking about last summer.
“There are always distractions,” he said. “Its pretty much business as usual for us.”
Kickoff for the Class AA State Championship Game is 8:30 p.m. Friday at Benedict College in Columbia.