By Thomas Grant Jr.
The schools’ Dutch Fork and Gaffney embody championship tradition in South Carolina High School football.
The Silver Foxes have won seven state titles since 2013, while the Indians hold the state record with 18. Their most recent title was won in 2021 over Dutch Fork by a 22-19 score at Charles W. Johnson Stadium.
It was the second championship won by Gaffney at the expense of Dutch Fork. Last year, the Silver Foxes got “Revenge at the Reservation” as it defeated the Indians 51-28 in the Class 5A Upper State final.
This Friday, the rivalry resumes in the third round. This time, Dutch Fork is the host team and defending state champion looking to return to the state semifinals for the eighth consecutive year.
The Silver Foxes (7-5) are coming off a 31-28 victory over T.L. Hanna. It was the 18th consecutive road playoff win for Dutch Fork, which started Ethan Offing at quarterback over Jon Hunt and got 260 total yards and two touchdowns.
Safety Deon Winsley had a 90-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown in the first half and defensive back Tyler Jones had 8 ½ tackles for Dutch Fork. It took a blocked field goal in the final seconds by Elgin Sessions to preserve the team’s fifth straight win.
It was the third straight win over T.L. Hanna in the post-season for Dutch Fork. The Silver Foxes
previously won in 2018 and 2020 in the Class 5A finals.
In fact, Friday’s game is the third straight matchup for Dutch Fork against a former state title game opponent. It defeated Boiling Springs 56-7 in the opening round.
Gaffney (9-3) is also coming off a road playoff victory. It defeated Clover 24-12 as senior quarterback Riley Staton, who won a state title at Gray Collegiate, threw for 187 yards and two touchdowns.
For the season, Staton has thrown for 2,678 yards and 28 touchdowns. His top target is wide receiver Emazon Littlejohn (56 receptions, 862 yards, 11 touchdowns) and running back Jaiden McDowell (1,279 yards, 13 touchdowns) had 133 rushing yards against the Blue Eagles.
The Indians face a Dutch Fork defense which has held opponents to 16.5 points per game and have collected 19 sacks on the season. Winsley leads the team in tackles with 101, linebacker Bryce Nutall has six sacks and safety Peyton Betts has five interceptions on the season.
The winner faces J.L. Mann or Hillcrest in the Class 5A Upper State final.
PHOTO BY GOFLASHWIN.COM Dutch Fork tight end Boone Miller (81) and wide receiver Leyton Shuler (23) celebrate a touchdown.