Whew! Here we are. After a tumultuous journey through an offseason unlike any other, the Friday night lights finally flicker on for public school football teams across the Lowco tonight.
There’s no guarantee we’ll be doing this all season — or even next week — with two area teams among the several across the state who have already had to postpone or cancel games because of COVID-19 exposures. But for now, we have football, and we hope for the best.
It’s not quite a full slate tonight, but four Lowco-area teams are in action in addition to a full schedule of SCISA games. So get ready for kickoff with our SCHSL Week 1 primer:
Academic Magnet at Battery Creek, 7:30 p.m.
There are a lot of unknowns going into this season-opening matchup for the Dolphins, who are the new kids on the block in the reconfigured Region 8-3A.
New head coach Terrance Ashe has to deal with joining a new region, getting to know players with very little contact and a lack of an offseason. Through the first few weeks of the season, Battery Creek hopes to rely on establishing a run game behind Jeremiah Dilbert, Ty Mitchell and Jacove Anderson to pull out a victory.
On the other side, Academic Magnet will only be traveling up to 25 players, so Creek should have the advantage of being able to sub in fresh legs as needed. Limiting the mistakes on defense, making sure there are no unnecessary penalties, and building up the run game with the strong trio of backs should give Creek the momentum to take the W in the season opener. — Brackin Lambert
JJ: Battery Creek 20, Academic Magnet 14
WK: Battery Creek 30, Academic Magnet 14
BL: Battery Creek 34, Academic Magnet 13
Colleton County at Bluffton, 7:30 p.m.
It’s just the season opener, but it already feels like a must-win for the Bluffton Bobcats. With only two playoff teams per region, you can’t afford any slip-ups. John Houpt’s squad will look to rebound from a tough 2019 campaign as his team hosts Colleton County to start a new, unpredictable season.
It won’t be easy jumping straight into region play, especially when the Bobcats lost their veteran quarterback Lee Kirkland and playmaking receiver Rakim White to graduation. There is still reason for optimism however, with senior running back Kylan Simmons returning behind an experienced offensive line. Expect a heavy dose of Simmons in this one as Bluffton’s two new quarterbacks get acclimated in this first contest.
The Bobcats will have to improve on the defensive side to stay in this game. Colleton County gashed the ‘Cats on the ground last year to the tune of 292 rushing yards. Bluffton’s stud defensive end DJ Aiken will be tasked with leading a young front seven, and will go up against a talented 270-pound senior Ian Shark, who has been getting his own hype, too. It will be up to Julian Suaza and Billy Fletcher to make some impact plays at linebacker in order to slow down a balanced Colleton offense.
The Cougars will look to attack all areas of a young Bobcat defense with versatile back Jackie White and speedy wideouts Jorryn Simmons and JaTodd Allen. This game could very well go either way, and it might be determined by which group can win the battle up front and give lanes to their offense. If the Bobcats’ veteran blockers can execute and Aiken plays up to his ability, Bluffton should have the upper hand in this key region-opening duel. — Wes Kerr
JJ: Bluffton 27, Colleton County 24
WK: Colleton County 32, Bluffton 30
BL: Colleton County 27, Bluffton 24
May River at James Island, 7:30 p.m.
May River’s transition into a Region 7-4A filled with familiar foes ironically starts with one the Sharks have little knowledge of. The Trojans have a new coach, Jamar McKoy, who moves south after an impressive run at Hunter Huss (N.C.) High School, so they could be a sleeper after moving down from Class 5A.
The Sharks bring back plenty of firepower on offense, starting with fourth-year starter Ahmad Green at quarterback. Green is a true dual-threat and has a solid offensive line and supporting cast around him, so May River should be able to put up some points. The Trojans do have a pair of standout defenders, though, in free safety Jayden Scott and defensive end John Grant, so Green will need to be aware of their presence and make smart checks at the line.
The Trojans like to get the ball out to Scott, who is their playmaker on offense and can make big plays on deep balls or turn screens into long gains. Containing him will be a tall task for a May River secondary that has some big holes to fill, so look for Eli Hall and the linebacking corps to try to get pressure on the quarterback and prevent Scott from having time to get open.
This one could be close late, so a big play on special teams or a pivotal turnover could end up being the difference, and with only two playoff spots available in a competitive region, the stakes are high. — Justin Jarrett
JJ: May River 27, James Island 20
WK: May River 34, James Island 20
BL:May River 30, James Island 21
St. John’s at Whale Branch, 7:30 p.m.
The Warriors open up their first season in Class 1A with an intriguing region matchup with the visiting Islanders. It’s a fun debut for Whale Branch’s new turf playing surface, and a big one for both teams’ hopes of being one of the two region teams to make the playoffs.
Whale Branch lost a huge senior class brimming with leadership skills, but quarterback Jaylen Reeves is back after playing point guard for the Class 2A state runner-up basketball team last winter, and he has a pair of breakout candidates in the backfield with him in Joseph Hicks and Jadon Grant. Both will also contribute on defense along with defensive back Amar Jenkins, defensive end Jaylen Roberts, and linebacker Da’Ante Parker, but the Warriors will need some younger players to step up on that side of the ball to have success.
St. John’s two-way standout Jordan Brown is a shifty run-first quarterback and a ball-hawking defensive back, so the Warriors will have to play sound defense to contain him, and Reeves will need to know where he is on passing downs. The Warriors also have to find a way to neutralize hard-hitting linebacker Sean Lowry and tenacious pass-rusher Bernard Brown in order to find running lanes for Grant and Hicks. — Justin Jarrett
JJ: Whale Branch 22, St. John’s 20
WK: Whale Branch 28, St. John’s 12
BL: Whale Branch 24, St. John’s 13