By Thomas Grant Jr.
How things can change in the span of six weeks.
It was at that time defending Class 5A champion Dutch Fork suffered a 17-14 loss to White Knoll. The defeat not only ended a 32-game winning streak in region play but also put the defending Class 5A champions at a rare low point.
At 2-5, the Silver Foxes would see their run of region titles come to an end. Even worse, another loss would mark the first-ever losing season under head coach Tom Knotts.
As Thanksgiving Day approaches, it’s business as usual in Irmo. The Silver Foxes are getting ready to practice during the holiday time in preparation for another state semifinal game.
Visiting J.L. Mann stands in the way of an 11th state title appearance for the Silver Foxes. The two teams will meet in the Foxes Den for the Upper State title and a trip to Orangeburg for the state championship.
“This is our time of year,” said Knotts after the 35-10 win over Gaffney. “We’re clocking right now. We think we’ve got the piece put together…I’m used to playing on Thanksgiving. I love playing on my favorite week of the year and I just appreciate these seniors and the team for allowing me to get Thanksgiving practice again. There’s nothing better.”
Last week, Dutch Fork wrote another chapter in their ongoing “Greatest Story Ever” tale. Facing longtime title game nemesis Gaffney for the third straight year, the Silver Foxes rolled to their 17th straight home playoff win and sixth straight victory overall.
Defense was once again a major factor for Dutch Fork. It held the Indians without an offensive touchdown for the first time since 2016, held their potent passing attack with Gray Collegiate transfer Riley Staton to only 54 yards and only allowed 37 total yards in the second half.
“Defense won the game,” Knotts said. “Lights out. Got down here and held them to field goals and they missed one. That’s a good quarterback. That’s as good of an overall wide receiving group as there is in the state, and we just shut them down. So, I’m just real pleased with the way the defense played.”
For the second straight week, Dutch Fork’s offense was led by backup quarterback Ethan Offing. With starter Jonathan Hunt still nursing a hamstring injury, Offing rushed for two touchdowns to put Dutch Fork ahead 14-10 in the first half.
After a one-yard touchdown run by Maurice Anderson before halftime made it 21-10, Offing found Trenton Long for the first of his two second-half touchdowns to extend the lead.
Offing, who finished with 188 passing yards, acknowledged the early struggles have made him a more confident quarterback in the post-season.
“It’s helped me a lot more because the game’s slowing down and I’m getting more comfortable with my teammates and my O-lineman, understanding the scene of the offense,” he said.
Dutch Fork (8-5) faces for the first time a Patriots’ team riding a five-game winning streak. Finishing second in Region 1-5A, J.L. Mann (11-2) is holding opponents to 15 points a game and is averaging just under 40 points a game.
The Patriots’ lone losses are to Westside and T.L. Hanna. Quarterback Ethan Anderson has thrown for over 2,800 yards and 37 touchdowns and both 1,000-yard receivers Keyshun Henderson and Mikel McClellan each have 12 touchdown receptions. Junior Nacyus Morrison is the team’s rushing leader.
Dutch Fork is 10-0 in state semifinal games under Knotts. The winner faces White Knoll or Summerville on Dec. 1 in the state final.
Photo by Thomas Grant Jr.