By Thomas Grant Jr.
The town of Irmo has two football teams still in the running for state titles.
Both Irmo and Dutch Fork are headed to the state semifinals in Classes 5A and 4A, respectively. While the Silver Foxes will face J.L. Mann at home for the Upper State final, the Yellow Jackets will face defending state champion South Florence on the road.
Other state semifinals in Lexington County include Camden at Brookland-Cayce in Class 3A and Abbeville at Gray Collegiate in Class 2A.
Irmo 34, James Island 7
It was a year ago when it appeared the Yellow Jackets were headed to the third round of the Class 4A playoffs.
Instead, the Trojans mounted a successful final drive to kick a game-winning field goal in the 24-22 victory.
A year later, Irmo made sure the outcome was not decided in the final minutes.
In improving to 13-0 overall, the Yellow Jackets held the previously undefeated Trojans to a season-low in points. Their lone score came on a four-yard touchdown run by Junior Maxwell in the third quarter.
Before that, running back Jaden Allen-Hendrix broke free for a 51-yard touchdown and Jose Villanueva hit two field goals of 27 and 33 yards to put Irmo up 13-7.
After a muffed punt by James Island, quarterback A.J. Brand scored from nine yards. He then added another rushing score and threw a touchdown pass to Caleb Alexander.
Brand finished with 158 passing yards and rushed for 131 yards to surpass 1,000 yards on the ground. Hendrix rushed for 180 yards to surpass 2,000 ground yards on the season.
“We like to be one of the more physical teams around,” said Irmo coach Aaron Brand. “I didn’t think our offensive line played all that well, but the big running back and the quarterback were able to find some holes and we were able to control the clock when we got the lead.
“When the running back is running like he is and the quarterback is doing what he’s doing, we’re going to be in pretty good shape. Jaden is a big-time player and has been all season.”
Standing in the way of Irmo’s first Class 4A title game appearance since winning it all in 1980 is the current champion South Florence. The Bruins (13-0) are riding a 28-game winning streak and are led by defensive lineman Amare Adams.
The winner will face either Westside or Greenville in the state final at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium at Willie Jeffries Field.
Dutch Fork 35, Gaffney 10
Another chapter was written for the “Greatest Story Ever” story being crafted by Dutch Fork football.
The Silver Foxes defeated Gaffney at home in the third round of the S.C. High School League Class 5A playoffs. It was their 17th straight home playoff win and advanced them to the Class 5A Upper State final.
Dutch Fork has made eight straight state semifinal appearances and 10 overall under head coach Tom Knotts. The Silver Foxes are 10-0 and will look to stay perfect in a first-time matchup with J.L. Mann in Friday’s Upper State final.
The winner will face either White Knoll or Summerville in the Class 5A final at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium on Willie Jeffries Field.
Dutch Fork’s sixth straight win evened its all-time series with Gaffney. The Indians had previously defeated the Silver Foxes in the 2012 and 2021 state finals.
Dutch Fork defeated Gaffney at “The Reservation” last year in the Upper State final en route to regaining the Class 5A title. This year, the Silver Foxes held the Indians to 166 total yards, 37 in the second half, and without an offensive touchdown for the first time since 2016.
“They’re really well-coached, real good coaches on the other side of the ball,” said Gaffney quarterback Riley Staton, who won a 2021 Class 2A title at Gray Collegiate. “They came out. We tried to adjust; they were fixed exactly into what we adjusted to. Then, it was hard for us to get back. Came back out, and we kept trying things. We kept trying things, but our energy got really low we honestly fell apart.”
“Defense won the game,” Dutch Fork head coach Tom 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.”
Gaffney’s only touchdown was scored on a blocked punt which was returned 25 yards for a touchdown by Crysstan Ellis. They also got a 23-yard field goal by Jake Spadavecchia.
For the second straight week, Dutch Fork’s offense was led by backup 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.
Meanwhile, Gaffney’s offense mustered only 37 total yards and two first downs in the second half.
“They made some adjustments on defense,” Gaffney head coach Dan Jones said. “They’re very sound on defense. They saw he hadn’t run the quarterback much and he just pulled it in the inside zone and took off with it. Later on, we needed to pull the trigger a little more instead of worrying about running it. But, evidently, the (wide receivers) were not open and they were pushing pressure on them early.”
Offing finished with 188 passing yards, while Staton was held to 54 passing yards.