It’s not that Timberland coach Art Craig is afraid of change. But as the veteran mentor of the program sees it, why change what works?
Timberland, located in Berkeley County, has been the winningest high school football program in the Lowcountry since 2001, with 180 victories against 44 losses, even after a 1-9 record in Craig’s first season (2001). The Wolves have won at least seven games in every season since 2002 and have reached double-digits in victories 11 times.
Timberland has won 15 region titles under Craig’s leadership, and is playing for another title in Region 6-AA on Friday night when the Wolves play at undefeated Oceanside Collegiate in Mount Pleasant.
Oceanside Collegiate is currently awaiting word from the S.C. High School League on what penalties it may face after allegedly allowing players to participate in both junior varsity and varsity games last week against Philip Simmons. Even if Oceanside must forfeit that 70-0 win over Philip Simmons, Friday’s game against Timberland still will determine the Region 6-AA champion.
Regardless of the stakes, Craig says the game against Oceanside Collegiate will serve as a great measuring stick for his team as the Wolves approach the Class AA state playoffs. Oceanside is 8-0 and averages 50 points per game.
“I told our kids this was our first playoff game,” said Craig, whose team is 5-1 with a loss to Providence Day of Charlotte. “This is the type of team we will see in the playoffs. They’re really explosive offensively and their defense is really solid.
"I am excited to see how we play and our kids are excited about being in a game that has a lot riding on it. It’s going to be a heckuva football game.”
Craig’s magic formula for winning has been pretty simple: Play good defense and run the football.
“I was told a long time ago that if you can play good defense and control the football on offense, you have a chance to beat teams that maybe you otherwise couldn’t beat," he said. "That’s pretty much how we’ve built this program. We believe in our system and in what we do, and our kids have bought into it. That’s really what it’s all about, kids buying in.”
Craig points to stability in his coaching staff as another key to long-term success. He also says being in a small, but tight-knit, community has been a huge factor.
“We’re a small community, but we get great support and the people here know we are going to do right by their children,” Craig said. “We have a great relationship with our community. There isn’t a lot of negativity around the program. We have kids who grow up here and they want to be a part of the program.”
Timberland always has been known as a team that plays with great effort. Often the Wolves are not the most talented team on the field, but opposing coaches have made a point to Craig how hard his teams play.
“They do play hard, very hard, and they have a lot of pride,” said Craig, who is 210-53 as a head coach, which includes a three-year stay at Cross High. “We teach effort every day, in everything we do on and off the field. We tell them if they work hard, and play hard, good things will happen for them. When they see the results, it’s easy to sell them on what we’re preaching.”
The 2019 Wolves, with a win Class AAAAA Stratford this season, are basically a carbon copy of teams in the past. They excel in the running game behind Matt Williamson and Jamari Nelson. Senior quarterback James Alston also is a good runner and has given Timberland a solid threat in the passing game as well.
Williamson is among the leaders on defense, totaling 53 tackles at linebacker. Omari Jenkins has 45 tackles, including 10 for loss, and junior end Jamal McKinney has nine sacks. Defensive tackle Sam Moultrie has five sacks.
FRIDAY'S KEY MATCHUPS
Timberland (5-1) at Oceanside Collegiate (8-0)
Coaches: Art Craig, Timberland; Chad Grier, Oceanside Collegiate
Key players: RB Matt Williamson, Timberland; DE Jamal McKinney, Timberland; RB Keegan Williams, Oceanside; DE Joey Boylston, Oceanside
Notes: Timberland won last year’s meeting, 34-14 … The winner of the game will finish first in Region 6-AA ... Oceanside is averaging 50 points per game while allowing 8.3 points … Timberland averages 33 points and allows 9.5 points per game.
Prediction: Timberland 26, Oceanside 24
Berkeley (5-2) at Stratford (3-4)
Coaches: Randy Robinson, Berkeley; Dennie McDaniel, Stratford
Key players: WR Hakeem Meggett, Berkeley; LB Jake Dunn, Berkeley; QB Josh Davis, Stratford; LB Mason Lord, Stratford
Notes: Stratford leads the overall series, 22-12, but Berkeley has won the last three meetings by a combined score of 146-53 … Stratford quarterback Josh Davis has passed for more than 1,600 yards in seven games … Berkeley quarterback Willie Chisolm has over 1,000 yards in his four starts.
Prediction: Berkeley 34, Stratford 27
Ashley Ridge (3-4) at Fort Dorchester (7-0)
Coaches: Kenny Walker, Ashley Ridge; Steve LaPrad, Fort Dorchester
Key players: QB Matthew Duncan, Ashley Ridge; RB Troy Grant, Ashley Ridge; RB Dwayne Wright, Fort Dorchester; DL Brandon Johnson, Fort Dorchester
Notes: Fort Dorchester leads the overall series, 6-3, and has won the last four games … Patriots have scored 192 points in those four wins … Fort Dorchester can secure at least a tie for the Region 8-AAAAA title with a win and plays Summerville next week … Ashley Ridge is coming off a bye week.
Prediction: Fort Dorchester 31, Ashley Ridge 14
FRIDAY'S LOWCOUNTRY GAMES
Timberland at Oceanside
Ashley Ridge at Fort Dorchester
Goose Creek at James Island
Berkeley at Stratford
Cane Bay at Wando
Stall at West Ashley
Colleton County at Bluffton
Georgetown at Bishop England
Hanahan at Manning
Waccamaw at Academic Magnet
Burke at North Charleston
Baptist Hill at Military Magnet
Charleston Charter at St. John's
Woodland at Barnwell
Scott's Branch at Cross
First Baptist at Augusta Christian
Colleton Prep at Northside
Porter-Gaud at Ben Lippen
Dorchester Academy at Thomas Heyward
Northwood Academy at Hilton Head Prep
Pinewood Prep at Laurence Manning
St. John's Christian at Patrick Henry
Beaufort Academy at Palmetto Christian