Will third year be the charm for Cruce, Stags?

Jeff Cruce is seeking his first winning season in three years at Berkeley High School. File Photo.

This could be the game Berkeley turns it around. Whether it is or not, this should be the year when the Stags return to their winning ways after back-to-back losing seasons.

The Stags opened the 2013 season with a 29-10 loss to Stratford, and have another big test when Summerville travels to Moncks Corner for a 7:30 p.m. showdown Friday.

Summerville defeated Cane Bay, 28-0, last week to give coach John McKissick his 603rd career victory.

“We face the winningest coach in football history,” said third-year Berkeley coach Jeff Cruce said. “Summerville is an excellent football team. But we’re getting better. I don’t know who it will be, but someday we’re going to knock off someone big.”

Cruce struggled in his first two years in Moncks Corner. The Stags were 4-7 in Cruce’s first year and 5-7 last fall.

But the third year, historically, has been when Cruce has turned sub-.500 teams into winners.

He was hired at Hanahan in time for the 1995 season. After two seasons of struggles, the Hawks went undefeated during the 1997 regular season and allowed only one touchdown in 12 games.

Cruce was named coach of the new Cane Bay High School in 2008 and the Cobras posted back-to-back losing seasons in their first two years. But the team went 9-4 in year No. 3, reaching the third round of the Class AAA playoffs.

The Stags have potential, but plenty of room for improvement. Special teams mistakes cost Berkeley four touchdowns in preseason games.

It wasn’t much better last week, when one bad snap on a punt resulted in an eventual Stratford touchdown. Another resulted in a safety.

“Nine points off turnovers, that’s way too much,” Cruce said. “We’ve worked hard to eliminate special teams mistakes. We have to keep correcting our mistakes.”

Cruce said this is the fastest Summerville team he’s seen over the last few years. He is impressed with sophomore quarterback Sawyer Bridges, who is in his second season as a starter.

Bridges was 15 for 35 in a 28-0 victory over Cane Bay, throwing for 171 yards and a score.

“Their quarterback doesn’t mismanage the game,” Cruce said. “He’s been effective.”

Summerville has dominated Berkeley in recent years. The Stags haven’t defeated Summerville since the opening game of the 2004 season when they posted a 16-3 victory. Summerville even defeated Berkeley, 28-20, in 2009, the year the Stags won the Division II-AAAA state title.

“Berkeley had some mistakes in the first game, and so did we,” McKissick said. “Our defense played well, but our offense didn’t. I don’t know if it was us or Cane Bay. We had 10 penalties and two fumbles. We’re not good enough to make mistakes like that and win on a consistent basis.”

Summerville posted a 36-12 victory over Berkeley last fall.

“I know Jeff is frustrated,” McKissick said. “I think they are a lot better than last year.”