This week the #2 Griffins will renew one of the team’s most storied rivalries when they travel to #1 seeded Union County in the second round of the AAA state playoffs. The two teams haven’t met on the gridiron since the fall of 2005, when the Griffins completely dominated the Yellow Jackets in a 34-0 blowout win in Union.
In 2004, Fairfield Central edged UCHS 13-2.
That was then.
Fairfield Central can expect to face a more explosive and confident team tonight. Union’s starting quarterback Keiston Smith has led the Jackets to eight consecutive wins, including a 42-16 win over Pickens in last week’s playoff opener.
“They’re a good football team,” said Griffin head coach Reggie Kennedy. “They’re on an eight-game winning streak. They started off slow, but now they’ve got the train rolling.”
Union started the season 0-3, losing to the likes of Spartanburg (27-19), Broome (20-13) and Gaffney (48-14), but has since turned things around, running the table in their region.
Smith has completed 91 of his 174 pass attempts for 1,470 yards, while tossing 18 touchdowns. He has been picked 12 times this season. He has gotten the job done with his feet as well, getting into the end zone seven times on 505 yards rushing.
“He really makes them go, offensively,” Kennedy said of Smith.
The Griffin secondary will be tested once again this week. UCHS’s senior receiver Victor Ruth leads the team with 27 receptions on the year and has made good work of each catch with a 27.6 yards per catch average. He has caught 11 of Smith’s 18 TDs for 736 yards.
The Jackets leading rusher, Michael Johnson, has been a consistent weapon for his team all season, compiling 927 yards on 165 carries with nine scores. He is averaging 5.6 yards per touch.
The Fairfield Central offense has met the challenges each week thus far and are hoping for more of the same tonight.
The Griffins will have their leading receiver in Chris Alston back tonight after getting banged up against Chester, forcing him to sit out of last week’s playoff opener vs. Berea. Alston was selected to play in the 2010 Shrine Bowl along with linebacker Ralph Cooper.
Alston has 796 yards and nine touchdowns on 28 receptions, averaging 28.83 yards per catch.
Fairfield Central’s passing game was nearly non-existent in his absence. Quarterback Danny Miller was three of four for 63 yards and one score last week against the Bulldogs. Senior Shaquille Young caught Miller’s lone TD pass but finished with 21 yards on two receptions.
The Griffin’s rushing attack has been their backbone down the stretch as they are averaging 187 yards per game on the ground, thanks in part to junior running back Jimmy Walker.
After taking over for the injured Jarvis Kennedy mid-way through the season, Walker has proven to be a legitimate threat in the backfield, rushing for 915 yards on 156 carries. He is averaging 83.2 yards per game and 5.8 yards per carry with a team-best eight scores on the ground.
Senior William Miller has become another weapon in the Griffins’ arsenal in recent games. Miller had a season-best two offensive touchdowns and recorded his third interception on the year in last week’s win.
On the defensive side, the Griffin D has been solid all season. The Griffins are averaging 66 tackles per game, 2.4 quarterback sacks per game and have 18 takeaways this season.
Cooper leads the team in tackles with 130 (82 solo) and is second in total sacks with eight, behind Devron Pye who has 9.5.
Senior Leroy Cohen was added to the North-South all star game roster earlier this week. He has also been a key component to the Griffins’ defensive success to date with 113 total tackles (53 solo), one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and one quarterback snuff.
The winner of tonight’s game will play the winner of the Chester/ Belton-Honea Path second round contest next week. The Griffins can host the third round playoff game with a win tonight and a BHP loss.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Kennedy said. “We’ve got to play better this week, particularly in our kicking game. The team that makes the least mental mistakes will win.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.