FLORENCE, S.C. — Trinity-Byrnes is one win away from its first state football championship, and coach Jared Amell has two words to say: “Just finish.”
“That’s the key,” Amell said. “I’m really proud of this team. The past few years, this program has gotten close. Two years ago, we lost in the final (to First Baptist) and in last year’s state semifinals (to eventual state champ Florence Christian). This year, the whole goal has been finishing.”
The top-ranked Titans (13-2) have a chance to do just that at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the SCISA Class 2A state championship game at Benedict College’s Charles W. Johnson Stadium in Columbia. There, Amell’s team will play No. 2 Hilton Head Christian.
His challenge this week, however, also will be off the field: How does a coach keep things normal for his team when everything around it this upcoming week will be anything but?
“With this team, it’ s a special team,” Amell said. “What I’ve told this team all year is we’re the only ones that can beat ourselves. We’re a talented team. We’ve just got to do what we can do well and focus on what we can do, whether it’s in the meeting room, locker room or practice field. If we just focus on ourselves, I think we can beat anybody we play.”
After graduating more than 30 seniors from last year’s SCHSL Class 4A lower-state finalist squad, the Hartsville Red Foxes are starting to feel the same way.
Up next for coach Jeff Calabrese’s squad is a lower-state semifinal matchup at Brookland-Cayce, which won 40-6 Friday against visiting Wilson.
“We’re still playing. That’s the most important thing,” said Calabrese, whose team is 9-3. “I think the kids are just excited. Anytime you win a ballgame, you know the kids put a lot of work into it, so we’re excited.”
After Calabrese was asked if this is the best coaching job of his career, he deflected the question.
“That’s not for me to say,” said Calabrese, who won a state title as Hartsville’s coach in 2012 and took West Florence to the 2003 3A state final. “I think the bottom line is, we’re just here working as hard as we can and trying to put our kids in position to win. These kids have got to play the game. So, we’re just going to let them try to keep playing.”
But there is one other Darlington County team still contending for a state crown: Lamar, which has won two championships since 2015. But those were under Corey Fountain, as coach. Under first-year coach Chad Wilkes, however, Lamar appears just as dominate as it gets ready for its Class A upper-state semifinal Friday at Wagener-Salley.