The magnitude of this unusual season of Whale Branch Warriors football has grown with each passing week, and now it’s on the cusp of becoming legendary.
It started with back-to-back shutouts, continued with two hard-fought road wins to claim the region title, and has picked up steam as the Warriors have surged to 8-0 — already the best season in school history.
Now Whale Branch has a chance to take down an old nemesis and navigate the program into uncharted waters when the Warriors travel to Bamberg-Ehrhardt on Friday for a matchup of unbeaten teams in the SCHSL Class 2A Lower State semifinals.
Many of the Warriors are still stinging from last year’s 14-7 loss at Bamberg, which cost Whale Branch a shot at the region crown, and they were eager for a reunion with their former region rivals. That’s some added motivation for a team already bent on ending a self-proclaimed “second-round curse” — though in an ordinary season, last week’s 52-12 thrashing of No. 7 Johnsonville would have come in the second round.
The Warriors enter the game riding a wave of confidence after dominating the Flashes from the outset in their playoff opener. Quarterback Jaylen Reeves and running backs Joseph Hicks and Jadon Grant each went over 100 yards rushing last week and have combined for 1,596 yards and 29 TDs on the ground through eight games. They’re running behind an excellent offensive line anchored by Aaron Rhode and Xavier Chaplin, and the Red Raiders’ defense, which allowed only eight points in the regular season, showed some inadequacies against the run in last week’s 26-20 squeaker against C.E. Murray.
The Warriors’ defense didn’t lose a step when the competition level jumped up in the postseason, limiting the Flashes to 169 total yards, nearly one-third of which came on one long touchdown pass to speedster Quez Lewis. Jaylen Roberts and Xavier Chaplin were consistently in the Johnsonville backfield and will need to continue to get pressure up front to disrupt a dangerous Bamberg offense.
Dual-threat quarterback Treyton Still is the biggest playmaker for the Red Raiders and passed for 174 yards and a TD while rushing for 80 yards and three scores last week. The Warriors’ linebacking corps and secondary will have to be disciplined to avoid giving up big plays through the air or on busted plays when Still tucks and runs, but Whale Branch’s defense has been strong enough at every level to be up to the task.
With two teams holding opponents to single-digit scoring — Bamberg has allowed just four points per game, while Whale Branch gives up 8.3 per contest — this one could come down to field position and special teams play, and the Warriors have a major weapon in senior kicker Henry Tome.
If Tome can be strategic in the kicking game to avoid big returns — the Warriors game up a kickoff return touchdown last week and can’t afford to do so again — and help Whale Branch flip the field when forced to punt, he can put the Warriors in position to advance to the Lower State finals, possibly even with a game-winning field goal.
It has already been a special season in Seabrook, but a win on the road Friday would send it into legendary territory.
Story and photos by Justin Jarrett