Bishop England goes after its first state championship in school history when the Bishops battle perennial powerhouse Central today in the Division II-AA title game.
The Bishops surprised many observers this fall with their 12-1 record and first appearance in the title game since 1976.
"They do everything well," Central coach Joe Mangum said. "They do the things you're supposed to do. I know that sounds like coach-speak, but they do everything well.
"One thing I noticed is how well coached they are. The other thing I noticed is how hard they play from start to finish. When you have good players who are coached well, and those players play hard, you are going to have a shot to get this far."
The Bishops lost the season-opener, 14-12, to West Ashley before reeling off 12 straight victories heading into today's game, which is slated for 5:30 p.m. at Charlie W. Johnson Stadium on the campus of Benedict College in Columbia. Central is 11-2.
"When we lost to Chestfield in Week 5, we were 3-2. When that happens, the chance of you having your house burned down is pretty good," Mangum said with a laugh.
But the Eagles survived the shaky start and some injuries to reach the state title game for the fourth straight year. They beat Dillon in last year's title game.
Central allowed 50 points in the first five games of the season, but has allowed only 48 in the last eight games. They beat Columbia 21-20 last week.
The Eagles will attack Bishop England's defense with a potent running game.
"If we were playing South Carolina, we'd try to run the ball," Mangum said. "Whoever we play, we try to run the ball. If we run the (isolation) and they can't stop it, we'll run it all day."
Central averages 203 yards rushing per game and has five players who have at least 200 yards. Debias Tyson leads the way with 863 yards and 11 touchdowns rushing.
Central will face one of the best defenses in Class AA. The Bishops have posted six shutouts, and have allowed only 92 points all year, including 14 in three playoff games.
Bishop England has been opportunistic in the turnover department. The Bishops have caused 41 turnovers and have given the ball away only 13 times.
"We're always undersized, but we play smart," Bishop England coach John Cantey said. "We know technique and what to do in certain situations. I've been a defensive coordinator for 12 years and we've never reached double digits in interceptions until this year."
DeAngleo Stephenson was injured early in the season, but recovered to share the team lead with five interceptions. Sophomore Reed Fosberry also has five picks and four fumble recoveries.
The Eagles might have an advantage with all of their state championship experience. But the Bishops don't mind being the underdogs.
"Some people give us a slim or no chance," Cantey said. "But we believe."