Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, August 13, 2016, 11:45 a.m.
Now the wait.
The Raider fans wait in Laurens, not to mention Gray Court, Hickory Tavern, Owings, Waterloo, Ora and Ekom Beach. The Red Devil partisans stretch from Clinton out to Joanna, Cross Hill, Mountville, Cross Hill and this side of Kinards. Some of both are out enjoying the waters of Lake Greenwood this weekend.
The teams don’t play until August 26. Some teams start next Friday. The High School League calls it Week Zero, and for Clinton High and Laurens District High, it truly is. Clinton scrimmaged four times this week and will now concentrate on in-house improvement and preparation for Laurens. LDHS has one more warm-up, a full-game scrimmage at York on August 19, when others are playing for real. I’m confident head coach Chris Liner will have the Raiders playing for real, too. It just won’t count.
Laurens at Clinton will count. Laurens, in no small part owing to greater size in both weight and school, will be favored. The Raiders are in the bright, shiny new Class 5A. Clinton remains in 3A, where it has been since the 1960s, but realignment helps since the Red Devils are going from being the smallest school in the old 3A to roughly the middle of the new. Laurens has dominated the series recently, but Clinton has dominated it overall. Eighteen consecutive Clinton wins in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s don’t count for much now.
Interest, though, remains high. The upstart Red Devils look surprisingly strong. Fans left W.L. Varner and Wilder stadiums, respectively, feeling great after the most recent results.
Laurens’ 14-13 setback at Woodruff, a member of the same 3A region as Clinton, was disconcerting, but the Raiders beat themselves, which is only what Liner has been warning them against since long before practice even began. The Wolverines blocked two punts, and the Raiders missed an extra point.
It wasn’t a real game, though. It wasn’t a real half-game. It was preparation for a real game. It was finding what needs to be corrected.
Against Woodruff, Liner said it looked like “we’re trying to put bubble gum on the Hoover Dam.”
He added, “I’m not worried at all. That sucked. We lost, but it was a jamboree. The way we lost kind of irritates you because you shouldn’t have, but we did. I don’t want it to get in our kids’ heads because it reminded me of the first three games of last year.”
I might have more personal insight into the upcoming Laurens County championship game had it not been for the various steps taken to get accounts of the events of Thursday and Friday nights in the sports pages of the Greenwood Index-Journal.
Last night, as I was talking to the head coach at Saluda (which Woodruff defeated, 13-7), the Red Devils were lining up for the kickoff. I slowly worked my way around the perimeter of Keith Richardson Field, scribbling stats as best I could, chatting with the chain crew and refs, and snapping photos that became increasingly more blurry as lights replaced sunlight.
This is the story I filed for a 10 p.m. deadline, but it was all I could do to process the photos and write essentially a blow-by-blow of the proceedings without making an attempt to total my statistics, which were about as meticulously recorded as the photos were shot.
Clinton won a defensive struggle punctuated by a single magical pass, 69 yards from Charlie Craven to Aaron Copeland, that decided the outcome against the Strom Thurmond Rebels.
Thurmond, like its namesake, is no slouch. According to the MaxPreps preseason rankings, the Rebels are ranked 23rd in the state after finishing 10-2 in 2015. Clinton finished 3-7 and is ranked No. 93. Laurens was 6-6 and is ranked 46th.
Being the curious sort that I am, I got up this morning and attempted to make some sense of last night’s Clinton-Thurmond statistics. I found that Clinton produced five first downs to Thurmond’s three, outpassed the Rebels 95 yards to 15 and were outrushed, 68-33. Clinton’s Craven completed seven out of 10 passes, connecting with Copeland on three of them.
Head coach Andrew Webb was playing the tune that has been a bit of a dirge in recent years. Clinton is the home of eight state championships, but last year’s team didn’t even make the playoffs. The season hasn’t begun, but the fans like what they are seeing, and so does the coach.
He said he is determined to “get Clinton back to what Clinton should be known for, and that’s good football.”
Clinton has probably played Laurens in an opening game before, but it’s been a while. At least 50 years have passed. I had time this morning to add up the stats of the scrimmage, but not the time to look that up. Maybe, in the nearly two weeks between now and the game, I can find a year.
“We think it will be great for both of our communities,” Webb said. “Everybody wants to come out and see what Clinton and Laurens have. Week one, to do it against each other, I hope it’s a great atmosphere for both teams. We expect this place (Wilder Stadium, which surrounds the aforementioned Richardson Field) to be full.
“Our guys are playing hard. They’re playing physical. They’re playing the way the Clinton Red Devils are expected to play.”
Now lies the lull as the thunderheads start to form out on the horizon.
Stop by L&L Office Supply, 114 North Broad Street, Clinton and buy one of my novels. Buy either Forgive Us Our Trespasses or Crazy of Natural Causes, and you’ll get a volume of my short stories, Longer Songs, absolutely free. Tell ‘em Mr. Monte sent you, y’hear?
Kindle versions – you don’t have to have a Kindle, just a free app for your electronic devices – of most of my books are available here. Crazy of Natural Causes is on sale at $1.99. Links to print copies are below.
Forgive Us Our Trespasses is the latest. It’s a tale about crooked politician who wants to be governor, whatever it takes, and another man trying to stop him. It’s outrageous.
Crazy of Natural Causes is about the fall and rise of Chance Benford, a Kentucky football coach who reinvents himself. It’s original.
The Intangibles is about the South in the 1960s, complete with racial strife, bigotry, resentment, cultural exchange and, of course, high school football.
The Audacity of Dope is the tale of Riley Mansfield, a pot-smoking songwriter turned national hero with a taste for the former and a distaste for the latter.
Longer Songs is a collection of 11 short stories that all began in songs I wrote.
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