Don’t ever tell Abbeville High School football coach Jamie Nickles any opponent is a pushover.
With a major region battle against Saluda looming next Friday for homecoming, the No. 1-ranked Panthers are focusing on tonight’s road game against Silver Bluff, which is 2-5 overall and 0-2 in Region 2-2A.
“If you start getting ahead like that, you get your brains beat out,” Nickles said. “This region is just too talent-filled. They’re very athletic. They’re big on the defensive line and they have athletes. They always have. We could have our hands full. They beat Ninety Six last year when they were undefeated in the region, so they are very capable.”
The Panthers enter this game having manhandled their previous two Region 2-2A opponents. Still, Nickles wants to see improvements tonight as the Panthers (6-0, 2-0) take steps toward a possible fifth straight state championship.
“I’m mainly in a week-by-week evaluation mode,” Nickles said. “I can evaluate from this last game (against Fox Creek). We are improving on offense. Defensively, we’ve been pretty steady, but there are still some things we need to clean up in the run game and in the pass game.”
The Panthers’ defense has missed a handful of tackles in the backfield and has, at times, been tested in the defensive secondary with good passing offenses. Despite giving up small gains on passes, the secondary has risen to the occasion many times. The defense has eight interceptions, and linebacker Jhalyn Shuler and defensive back Jeremiah Lomax have two each. Four of the INTs came against one of the state’s most prolific passers: Southside Christian’s J.W. Hertzberg.
The Panthers have been dominant in the rushing game, but Nickles said he’d still like to see his team pass the ball a half-dozen or more times a game to keep the opposing defense honest and not overcrowding the box.
Abbeville’s rushing attack is led by J.D. Moore and Martico Jackson, who have combined for more than 1,300 yards on the ground and 10 touchdowns. Tyrell Haddon is getting lots of carries on sweeps and has six touchdowns. Cruz Temple, who also plays in the defensive secondary, carries the ball several times a game and has four touchdowns.
“I think our running backs have been most improved, but I want to see more consistency,” Nickles said.
Silver Bluff coach De’Angelo Bryant realizes the challenge ahead of him.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for the program at Abbeville,” Bryant said. “It is evident to see why they are a successful program. Our guys at Silver Bluff know and understand the task we have at hand, and our expectation at the Bluff is to leave it all on the field. We have to play fast, physical and disciplined.”
For comparison purposes, Silver Bluff lost to Saluda 55-0. The Bulldogs lost to Barnwell, which is ranked No. 2 in Class 2A, 42-7. Abbeville defeated Barnwell in the 2018 state title game.
The key offensive player for the Bulldogs is quarterback Darius Johnson, who has 659 yards rushing on 72 carries and eight TDs. Linebacker Donovan Bush was an all-region and all-state player last year. Bush, who also plays fullback, has 73 tackles, three sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception. Outside linebacker Alijah Alford has been coming on strong in recent games and has improved his tackles-per-game average by three.