PETTICOAT JUNCTION — There’s been a wealth of success in Petticoat Junction. Regardless of the talent lining up on the field on Friday nights the one constant is winning records. The Bulldogs have only had one losing record in the school’s history and current head coach Al Lown has never had a losing season.
Now, Lown and the Bulldogs again face a rebuilding faze. Driven by both the triumph and despair of the 2013 season, the young Silver Bluff team will take the field this season with a simple motto: “Make that one more play.”
2013 in Review
Jaylen Lawrence transformed the Silver Bluff run-heavy Wing-T offense into a brisk moving balanced offense unafraid to air it out for the Bulldogs final drive of the 2013 season. Then, with 1.6 seconds remaining, Lawrence looked for one of the most explosive weapons in the Silver Bluff arsenal, but the desperation pass intended for Shaquez Wright was picked off, and Batesburg-Leesville was crowned the Class AA Division II state champion. It was an ending ill-fitting of a season in which the Bulldogs went on a 12-game winning streak following a lost to Class AAA opponent Strom Thurmond, which many of the Silver Bluff players feel they could’ve easily had a shot in if not for a poor first half performance.
The team beat opponents at each class. It breezed through Region 5-AA competition with the only test coming in a one-point victory over Edisto. It marked the second straight season the Bulldogs went unbeaten in region games.
DeAngilo Drayton played a key role on both sides of the ball for Silver Bluff last season, and this year will be no different. The junior linebacker and running back will have the task of being one of the leaders on the Bulldog’s squad which lost a core of veterans last season. Drayton led the team in tackles with 101, He was also eighth among all area players.
Drayton will also be a part of the Bulldogs run game. He and Myles Corbitt were two integral pieces of the run game last season. The tandem will go from the third and fourth options in the run game to a much more prevalent choice with leading rusher Shaquez Wright and RJ Stallings gone.
Brandon Hill spent last season on the junior varsity squad as the quarterback, but now, he will be running the show for the Bulldogs varsity unit. He is faced with the task of replacing Jaylen Lawrence. While at first sight it’s evident that the passing game isn’t the key focus of the Bulldogs’ offense, Hill has a tall task ahead of him. There wasn’t an abundance of passing done last season, but when the ball was put in the air it was effective. Lawrence completed 62 percent of his passes and threw for 911 yards and seven touchdowns.
“He’s done a good job so far,” Lown said of Hill’s progression over the summer. “A lot depends on him. We will see how well he develops.”
Silver Bluff also adds Malik Washington, a transfer from Denmark-Olar, who will see some action rushing the ball. Lown is excited to add Washington’s size – he’s 190 pounds according to Lown – to the already talented group of backs.
Games to Watch
The realignment of the regions has made for some interesting matchups this year. Lown expects every team in Region 5-AA to be better. Woodland and Ridgeland joined the region as replacements for Bamberg-Ehrhardt and Calhoun County, which both dropped down to Class A.
The region schedule opens with a game against Ridgeland at home on Oct. 3. The Bulldogs will take on Woodland, usually a playoff opponent, on Oct. 24 with possible playoff implications.
“With the rules this year, only the top four making the playoffs. We have to have good region play to make the playoffs,” Lown said.
Silver Bluff has also reignited some old non-region rivalries this season. Williston-Elko and Swansea were a few of the games Lown said the team is looking forward to in addition to the Sept. 5 game with Strom Thurmond and Sept. 19 at Midland Valley.
The Silver Bluff offense lost more than 2,700 yards rushing and 32 touchdowns with the departures of Wright and Stallings. But the trio of backs in the fold this season have the ability to put up similar numbers albeit in a different way.
“We’re just not as explosive there,” Lown said speaking of his Wing T rushing attack. “We don’t have the big explosive playmakers like we did last year with Shaquez and RJ, but we have some good size. It’s a pretty good group of backs we have, so we’ll still run the ball.”
There’s no doubt about it proclaimed Lown after the teams first practice, “Our defense has to carry us early,” he said.
The Bulldogs held opponents to an average of 13.7 points per game last season. The inexperience on the offensive side of the ball could mean the unit will have to post similar, if not better, results this season.
Drayton will play a role in those defensive efforts as well as junior Darnell Davis and Corbitt, who both lined up at cornerback last season. Lown is also hoping to see great things from Tarron Jackson.
The 6-foot-1 200-pound sophomore will play at middle linebacker this season.
“I think you’re going to really see him blossom this year,” Lown said.
Defensive end Devonte Davis will also see more action this season. He was injured for a good portion of the 2013 season.
The team lost its kicker and punter Nicholas Casares from last season. Omar Zambrano will handle the place kicking for the team this year, and either he or Drayton will punt.
As far as returning kicks and punts, Corbitt currently has that task.
Lown said nothing major has changed in terms of where the team expects to be come the end of the season.
“We still have the same expectations we’ve always had. I just think it’s going to take us a lot longer to build into it,” he said. “We’ve got a young team with a lot of inexperience. It’s a team that I think is going to get better as the year goes on. We’ll look up at where we are after the first five games and once again try to make the playoff and see what happens in the playoffs.”
The venerable coach does, however, know it will be a test of patience. He isn’t necessarily expecting the results to be there from the start, but he certainly thinks they will show when it matters most in the waning weeks of October.
Eric Russell covers sports for the Aiken Standard. Follow him on twitter @EricJ_Russell.
• at Strom Thurmond 31-15 Loss
• at Aiken 35-7 Win
• vs. Southside Christian 34-0 Win
• vs. South Aiken 36-20 Win
• vs. Midland Valley 53-33 Win
• at Bamberg-Ehrhardt 28-7 Win
• vs. Wade Hampton 35-14 Win
• vs. Edisto 13-12 Win
• vs. Calhoun County 34-6 Win
• at Barnwell 33-16 Win
• vs. Barnwell 28-0 Win*
• vs. Woodland 35-12 Win*
• vs. Bamberg-Ehrhardt 14-7 Win*
• vs. Batesburg-Leesville 28-24 Loss**
*Class AA Division II Playoff game
**Class AA Division II Championship game
All games at 7:30 p.m.
• Aug. 22 vs. Abbeville
• Aug. 29 vs. Williston-Elko
• Sept. 5 vs. Strom Thurmond
• Sept. 19 at Midland Valley
• Sept. 26 at Swansea
• Oct. 3 vs. Ridgeland^
• Oct. 10 at Wade Hampton^
• Oct. 17 at Edisto^
• Oct. 24 at Woodland^
• Oct. 31 vs. Barnwell^
^-Region 5-AA games
Aug. 4 North Augusta
Aug. 5 Strom Thurmond
Aug. 6 Fox Creek
Aug. 7 South Aiken
Aug. 8 Williston-Elko
Aug. 9 Wagener-Salley
Today Silver Bluff
Wednesday Ridge Spring-Monetta
Thursday Midland Valley
Staff Photo by Eric Russell Brandon Hill warms up as Silver Bluff took to the field for the first day of football practice on Friday.×
Staff Photo by Eric Russell Silver Bluff head coach Al Lown talks with his quarterbacks during the Bulldogs' first practice.×
Staff Photo by Eric Russell Brandon Hill, center, drops back to pass under watch from Silver Bluff head coach Al Lown, left, during the Bulldogs’ first practice. Hill is part of a young group of Bulldogs Lown hopes will progress throughout the season.×