FLORENCE, S.C. — The Florence Christian School Eagles are finally close to full strength, and seemingly peaking at the right time, coach Neil Minton said.
“We feel like we’re playing our best ball at the right time and we’re starting to click a little bit,” Minton said. “We’ve scored the ball pretty well most of the season and defensively we’ve had some challenges, but we’re improving.
“We were hurt a lot earlier in the year, but now we’re healthy and feeling good.”
Even so, a return trip to the SCISA Class 2A state championship game will not be easy as FCS (8-4) travels to Hilton Head Christian Academy (10-1) on Friday for a 7 p.m. semifinal matchup.
The winner faces the Orangeburg Prep/Trinity-Byrnes victor on Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m. for the title.
The two programs are more than a little familiar with each other, having played multiple times over the years since FCS began football. It was HHC that Florence Christian defeated in 2013 for its first state championship. The two teams also met last year in the playoffs with FCS coming away with the victory.
“It’s a tough, tough test,” Minton said of facing HHC, who are also nicknamed the Eagles. “Hilton Head Christian scores a lot of points (462), and their defense plays really hard and really gets after it.”
The matchup features two high-powered offenses as Florence Christian is averaging 39.5 points a game while HHC is scoring 42 a contest. They’re two different offenses, however, as FCS is more reliant on the run (3,419 yds) while Hilton Head has been more pass-heavy (3,018 yds).
HHC’s offense also relies greatly on its quarterback Hayden Shinn, who not only leads the team in passing yards (2,926) but rushing yards as well (699). He’s accounted for 47 of his team’s 58 offensive touchdowns.
“They’re skill players are all really good and catch the ball well,” Minton said. “The quarterback is obviously a dual threat. He’s big, strong and athletic and can run it and throw it. He extends plays, and that makes it really hard to keep coverages when you can extend plays like he can. They run really good routes, but I feel like the strength of the team is improvising and playing playground football.
“So we’ve got to be very disciplined and keep covering and do our best to contain the quarterback.”
A solution to that problem might simply be Florence Christian’s general philosophy on offense of ball control and winning the time of possession battle.
The combo of Marshall Brown, Andre Aikens, Ethan Kelly and Jack McFadden has produced 3,149 yards rushing and 46 touchdowns so far this season, with quarterback Robbie Jordan throwing for 11 more scores.
“We feel like we have an opportunity to control the line of scrimmage, but they pursue really well and they’re very sound,” Minton said of HHC’s defense. “So we can’t have a slack play and let them get us for a tackle for a loss or no gain and get behind the chains. We have to stay on schedule and methodically move the ball down the field.
“That’s the way we’ve kind of played for years. Our mentality is we have the ball, they can’t score.”