Timberland rides speed and defense to success

Timberland quarterback Taylor Elizondo has thrown for 501 yards and eight touchdowns in five games this season. The Wolves host Andrews today in the Region 7-AA opener.

Wade Spees

Few football programs in the state can match the success of Timberland High School over the last 10 years.

Including this year's 5-0 start, Timberland has a 103-17 record since 2002. Since moving to class AA for the 2008 season, the Wolves have won 42 of 45 games.

A trademark of every one of coach Art Craig's teams is speed and defense, and the Wolves are loaded in both areas this fall.

Entering the Region 7-AA opener with Andrews tonight, Timberland has allowed a total of 20 points, all in the first two games. The defense has posted three consecutive shutouts.

As good as some of Timberland's past defensive units have been, Craig says this year's unit is unique.

"We've always been blessed with speed and kids that can run, but I've never had a team that likes contact like this group does," said Craig. "This group will strike you. They love to hit. Every one of them tries to get in on the hitting on every play. We're not really big on defense, but they play big and strong and fast."

Anchoring the defense is senior safety Lee Mayes, who Craig calls "the smartest football player I have ever coached. His instincts and his intelligence really amaze me sometimes."

Bobby McNeil, at tackle, and James Middleton, at end, are true forces up front. Linebackers Mike Wilson, Diquon Richardson and Daquan Lucas are speedy, physical linebackers.

Timberland's offense does not have to score many points to secure a victory, but they put up big numbers, nonetheless. The Wolves average 51 points per game, with their lowest point total being 41 in a shutout of Berkeley.

Senior Taylor Elizondo operates the team at quarterback. The 5-6, 160-pounder has passed for 501 yards and eight touchdowns in five games, an impressive number considering Timberland's run-first attack.

"He's a definite threat in the passing game, and with him back there, teams can't load eight or nine in the box to stop the run," said Craig. "He's such a competitor and a really hard worker for us."

Mayes, Berlin Kinlaw and Wilson are the leading receiving threats.

The always potent running game is handled by several players. Classe Thompson leads the team with 389 yards rushing, but Lucas has gained 361 yards and Adam June 214.

"In the past, we've had one main guy, but this year we're spreading it out and keeping a fresh guy back there," said Craig. "We're still getting the yards we've always gotten, but it's several guys getting the yards."

Working up front are center Dylan Craig, guards Brian Moore and McNeil, and tackles Dixon Ballentine and Rodney Allen.

With Timberland opening region play, Craig says his team will face its toughest competition over the next five weeks. Taking out a winless Kingstree team, the other four teams in Region 7 sport a 15-5 combined record.

In Andrews, the Wolves face former defensive coordinator Steve Blanchard, now the head coach at Andrews. The Yellow Jackets come into the game with a 5-0 record.

"We're really kind of mirror images of one another," said Craig. "We do a lot of the same things on offense and defense. Steve has built that program up and they're a good, solid football team. They won't be intimidated by anything we do. It's a big challenge for us. They are the best team we have played this year, hands down."