Abbeville’s first round opponent in the Class 2A state playoffs has just 21 players on its roster and plays a lot of players both ways.
Lewisville (4-6 overall) is the No. 5 seed out of Region 4 and travels to Hite Stadium in Abbeville for tonight’s game, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m. The Panthers (9-0) are the No. 1 seed from Region 2.
“As one of the smallest schools in Class 2A, numbers are an issue for us,” Lions coach William Mitchell said. “We don’t have a jayvee team and we have dressed 19 and 21 players the past two weeks. Because of this limited roster size and injuries during the season, we have changed our schemes around quite a bit.”
One of the biggest changes was moving Shrine Bowl receiver Demetric Hardin to quarterback. In just six games under center, he has rushed for 1,242 yards and 15 touchdowns and passed for 953 yards and seven more TDs.
“He’s that good,” Panthers coach Jamie Nickles said. “He’s one of the best in the state. He’s been unstoppable here lately. They do a good job of getting numbers at the point of attack. You give athletes space, and he’ll make plays. You’re not going to stop a great athlete like him. You just hope to contain him a little bit. Your secondary has to play awfully good because he’s going to break loose some.”
Nickles said he hopes to limit Hardin to short gains instead of big runs.
“We do have more numbers than they do,” Nickles said. “He’s got five or six that I’ve counted that are playing both ways. He’s limited the amount of defense his Shrine Bowler plays, so that’s really allowed his offense to take off.”
Hardin’s move to quarterback came after Week 3, when the Lions’ starting quarterback went down with an injury. It was just one of several key players lost to injuries along the way.
“This is a group that has really stood up when adversity came their way,” Mitchell said. “We had a rough stretch in the middle of the season, but the kids kept playing hard, kept lifting and kept getting better. I feel like we are playing our best football right now.”
The No. 1-ranked Panthers have their share of all-stars. Offensive lineman Trai Jones and linebacker Jhalyn Shuler both made the Shrine Bowl, while OL/DL Carson Smith and kicker Dylan Beauford are slated to play in the North/South All-Star Game.
The Panthers have one of the most dominant rushing attacks in the state. J.D. Moore has 1,003 yards and 11 TDs, Martico Jackson has 927 yards and seven TDs, and Tyrell Haddon has 626 yards and 10 TDs, plus two receiving touchdowns.
On defense, the Panthers will look to maintain gap integrity and ensure their defensive secondary steps up to stop breakaway plays. Although Nickles calls his defense a work in progress, it has excelled this year. Shuler has two interceptions and one fumble recovery returned for a touchdown. Jeremiah Lomax leads the team with three INTs, and Quadarius Guillebeaux has two. Up front, Smith has forced two fumbles.
Mitchell said he wants to keep his team grounded heading into this matchup with a team that has won four consecutive state championships.
“We want to be sure that our kids embrace the moment, but, at the same time, don’t let it be too big for them,” Mitchell said. “The field is still 100 yards long, and both teams still have 11 players on the field at a time. We are really looking forward to playing a program like Abbeville, with their great tradition.”
Lewisville has a strong tradition, as well. In the course of the school’s history, six players have spent time in the NFL, and the school has won four state titles.
“We are trying to get back to that level of success,” Mitchell said. “Playing a program like Abbeville will only help us on that journey.”
Other key players for the Lions include wide receiver Jadon Scott, who has 46 catches for 629 yards and eight TDs, defensive end Luke Harris, and linebackers Ryan Graddy and Chriss Flynn.
Abbeville is trying to make South Carolina high school football history this year. No state team has ever won five straight state titles.
The winner of Friday’s game will play the winner of the Andrew Jackson/Christ Church game in next week’s second round of the playoffs.