Josh Booker

Ninety Six senior Josh Booker looks for yardage in the WCTEL Kickoff Classic at Abbeville High School.

A banged up Ninety Six team will be without two of its top players on both sides of the ball in tonight’s first-round matchup against Southside Christian.

Running back Josh Booker and linebacker Ryan Latham won’t be available for the Wildcats as they deal with injuries. The Wildcats also lost a starting offensive lineman and running back George Nicholson.

Booker has ran for more than 1,000 yards this season, and Latham ranks near the top in several defensive categories on the team.

Their absences will be felt, but Ninety Six is ready to rally as a group.

“I’ve still just been preaching to them that we have a chance to win,” Ninety Six coach Matthew Owings said. “We’ve just got to keep believing and hoping that we can pull off an upset. We have to control what we can control, but unfortunately we have more guys out.”

Ninety Six will try to bounce back from last week’s blowout loss to Abbeville. The Wildcats’ lone region win came two weeks ago in overtime against Silver Bluff. They clinched the fourth playoff spot in Region 2-2A in Owings’ first season at the helm.

“It’s more important to me that they get a chance to play another week,” Owings said. “We have a chance to show what we’re trying to build here. We’re building a team built on effort, attitude and toughness. When guys go down, some other guys have to step up.”

Adversity is nothing new to the Wildcats. The team lost top lineman Cody Fleming and starting tight end Ethan Syswerda in the first game against Emerald, forcing in new starters on the offensive line. Ninety Six still managed to overcome an 0-2 start and finish the season 4-6 overall.

Southside Christian enters the game on a six-game winning streak. It finished the season 9-1 and 4-0 in region play. Southside Christian’s only loss on the season was to Abbeville in Week 3.

The Sabres run a spread offense that’s led by quarterback J.W. Hertzberg. He is joined in the backfield by standout running back Mallory Pinkney.

Pinkney runs behind a veteran offensive line, which includes four-year starters Jeremy Costin and Jasper Peeler. Seniors Hosea Mattison and Luke Kissenberth are two key wideouts in Southside Christian’s prolific passing attack.

Southside Christian has been clicking on offense all season, averaging 40 points per game. Saluda and Abbeville were the only teams to hold Southside Christian under 35 points in a game this season.

Owings said the team will need to fill the holes left by injured players and keep its next-man-up mentality it’s had all season.

“It’s another week to show how much our team has grown and overcome adversity,” Owings said. “I hope we still see it this week.”

Contact sports writer Wesley Dotson at 864-943-2530 or follow him on Twitter @WesleyPDotson.