Over the last two decades, when Marlboro County and Hartsville got together, the region title and the top seed in the playoffs would be hanging in the balance.
That is not the case this year but the contest is of grave importance to both teams. For Marlboro County, their best hope of making the playoffs may rest on the outcome.
"This is an important game for us. We have been showing improvement in a lot of areas but haven't put it all together," said MCHS head coach Bobby Collins.
Although there are at-large bids to the playoffs for some fifth-place teams in the lower state, those go to teams with the best overall record. Currently the Bulldogs have a 1-5 record, so anything they can do to improve the resume would be huge.
The Bulldogs will be big underdogs against number one ranked Myrtle Beach and number three ranked Wilson. While not impossible, Marlboro County will have to elevate their play significantly to upset either of those opponents.
Darlington is winless and hapless, so that, at least on paper, is one region victory for the Bulldogs. To feel confident about a playoff berth, they need a second region win and that leaves Friday night's game at Hartsville.
The Red Foxes are also struggling, having lost their last two games in one-sided fashion.
"Our guys still have very positive attitudes and are coming to practice every day, working hard to improve. That is all you can do," said Collins.
And there is the knowledge that if they could have played with fewer mistakes than their opponents, the Bulldogs could have conceivably won two or three of their previous contests.
"Kids have to be resilient. If ours are, there is still good things that can come to us in the next four weeks," said Collins.
Scouting the Foxes
After getting blown away by Myrtle Beach last Friday, Hartsville has a 3-3 overall record, with all three losses being by more than two touchdowns.
That is a tough pill to swallow for a program that hasn't lost three games in a season since 2011 and hasn't dropped three regular season games since 2010.
The explanation is quite simple how a team that rolled through the 2018 regular season undefeated and played for the Lower State title is in this situation - graduation.
It is much easier to discuss the standouts who are gone as compared with who they are counting on this season.
Star quarterback Tiyon Evans, fullback Collins Bishop, wide receiver J.D. Pendergrass, plus most of their linemen finished their careers when they lost to Myrtle Beach. Star defensive lineman Demonte Capehart transferred to IMG Academy in Florida.
So long-time coach Jeff Calabrese is faced with a rebuilding job.
Junior Owen Taylor is the new quarterback. He has been successful passing the ball, completing 46 of 81 attempts for 701 yards and six touchdowns prior to last week's game. However, he doesn't bring the dynamic rushing threat that Evans offered.
At this point last year, both Evans and Bishop were nearing 700 yards rushing. This season, J’Shawn Anderson leads the team with 318.
Dariayan Pendergrass is Taylor's top target with 19 receptions for 260 yards.
The lone standout returning for the Foxes is linebacker Justin Abraham, who will play in the Shrine Bowl. Abraham has 55 tackles so far, including four quarterback sacks.
Bailey Carroway, also a linebacker, actually leads the team in tackles with 62. Kevon Higler and Keyshawn McDonald are other defensive leaders.
Supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month
The Bulldogs played last Friday wearing pink socks in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The socks were donated to the team by Kale Seals of Out of This World Printing and Graphics.
Keys to the game
While they have very little to show for it, the Bulldogs have played well defensively all year and in stretches offensively.
If they can eliminate the drive-killing sacks, penalties and turnovers, they can easily play with a struggling Hartsville team.
It will come down to which team executes cleanly.
Tee it up
The Bulldogs and Red Foxes will kick off at 7:30 at Hartsville's Kellytown Stadium.