Tom Knotts has never officiated a game at Gaffney High School, but he’s heard plenty of stories about the stadium’s atmosphere.
The Dutch Fork coach and his team will see it firsthand when they head to The Reservation, the nickname for Gaffney’s home course, on Friday in the Class 5A Upper State championship. The winner of the game advances to next Saturday’s state title game at Benedict College’s Charlie W. Johnson Stadium.
Gaffney has lost just one home game in the past two years, this season against North Carolina’s Mallard Creek.
“Eight or 10 thousand people are shouting against us. I can’t think of a better environment to play football,” Knotts said Tuesday before practice. “So many people have told me what it will be like to be there. I hope that. They (the crowd) are going to be behind us. They will all be against us. I hope our guys respond.”
Dutch Fork players and coaches got a taste of what a Gaffney crowd might look like during last year’s Class 5A championship game in Benedict between the two teams. Indians fans arrived several hours before kickoff and made up the majority of the crowd last year when they defeated the Silver Foxes 22-19 for their first championship since 2012. The 2012 title also came against the Dutch Fork.
the the loss snapped Dutch Fork’s 62 unbeaten games streak and his bid for his sixth straight state championship.
Knotts and the Dutch Fork players said revenge is definitely a factor in Friday’s game.
“I’m very motivated by that,” Knotts said. “I haven’t beaten Gaffney. I lost to them last year, I lost to them in the state championship game in 2012. I don’t like to lose to people too many times. I am definitely motivated to win this game.”
“We’ve given it a lot of thought,” Dutch Fork runner Jarvis Green said. “After the loss last year, we were back in the weight room preparing for the season, working hard. We’ve been preparing for Gaffney, and now he’s here.”
Green, a Mr. Football finalist, has been the catalyst for the Silver Foxes offense. James Madison’s commitment needs 151 yards to surpass 2,000 rushing yards for the season despite missing time due to injuries. Green has 761 all-purpose yards and nine total touchdowns in three playoff games.
Dutch Fork quarterback Aliam Appler is completing 65.7% of his passes during the postseason and has 10 total touchdowns.
Defensively, the Dutch Fork is allowing just 205.5 yards and 12.5 points per game. The Silver Foxes have given up just 46 points in their last seven games.
The defense will be tested by quarterback Gaffney and Duke will commit to Grayson Lofits, who has thrown for 2,677 yards and 19 touchdowns. Loftis passed for 248 yards and had the game-winning touchdown pass to Suga Jefferies with 3:30 remaining.
Dutch Fork also took out Loftis twice during the game.
“They’re the same quick, athletic, driven, tough mentality,” Knotts said of Gaffney. “They are a typical Gaffney football team that will have a lot of fighting in them. It should be a good ball game.”
SCHSL Playoff Schedule, Predictions
A look at Friday’s SC High School League playoff matchups with The State’s Lou Bezjak’s predictions in parentheses.
All matches at 7:30 p.m.
Dutch Fork in Gaffney (Bezjak’s prediction: Dutch Fork)
Summerville at Fort Dorchester (Fort Dorchester)
Northwest in Greenville (Northwest)
South of Florence in AC Flora (AC Flora)
Clinton in Powdersville (Powdersville)
Beaufort in Dillon (Dillon)
Say hello in Abbeville (Abbeville)
Oceanside Collegiate at Andrew Jackson (Oceanside Collegiate)
St. Joseph’s at Christ Church (Christ Church)
Cross at Johnsonville (Johnsonville)
Bezjak last week: 7-1
Bezjak’s season record: 256-61