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"Humble, hungry and focused"

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By Travis Jenkins

Tonight, Chester and Union County will meet on the football field for the second time this year. The stakes will be slightly higher this time around.

The Cyclones (13-0) and Yellow Jackets (10-3) will be fighting for an upperstate championship and a trip to the AAA state title game tonight at Union County Stadium. The two tangled as part of a multi-team scrimmage at Chester in the pre-season, but Cyclones Coach Victor Floyd said that encounter probably won’t give either team much insight into the other, since so much has changed for both squads since that early August affair. Union County actually started the year 2-3, but hasn’t lost since, partly because the Yellow Jackets seem to have found their offensive identity under new coach Brian Thompson since that time.

“I think early on they were trying to throw it a little bit more. They’ve got some big old guys up front and now they are just rolling off the football. They do a really good job,” Floyd said.

Much like Chester, Union will run a power spread on offense. The team will primarily keep it on the ground with TT Kershaw, who has run for 1,704 yards and 19 touchdowns on 173 carries while averaging an eye-popping 9.8 yards-per-carry. Jordan Kershaw doesn’t have nearly as many rushing attempts (38), but he gets 8.3 a pop. Quarterback Kesean Glover is another huge cog in the team’s running game as he has gone for 1,585 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground. He is by no means a one-dimensional threat, though, as he has also thrown for 1,428 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season. He spreads the ball around well in the passing game, but his top receiver is Jabari Meadows, who has 15 grabs on the year for 337 yards. Floyd said the Yellow Jackets present a lot of challenges.

“They’ve got a very good team. The quarterback is a good player…they’re good at all the skill spots and the offensive line,” he said.

Defensively, Union County works primarily from a 4-2 look. Floyd said there are a lot of good-looking athletes on that side of the ball as well, with defensive tackle Cam Lott really jumping out. The Yellow Jackets have gotten into a few high-scoring shootouts this year, getting by Emerald in the regular season finale 51-48, for example. In the playoffs they rolled Chesnee 56-13 and blew out Indian Land 55-14. Last week, they rallied from a two-score deficit to claim a 27-26 win over two-time defending upperstate champion Chapman. That one came down to the wire. Chapman drove inside the Union County 10 in the final seconds, but the Yellow Jackets forced and recovered a fumble to seal the deal. Floyd said that was a great win for Union County, one that will certainly have them riding high.

Chester is fresh off a 48-20 third round blowout of Southside. The game was 6-6 late in the first, but the Cyclones all but iced the game before the half, scoring 28 straight to claim a 34-6 lead at the break. As has become Chester’s trademark through the playoffs, the Cyclones tamped down a Southside rally with a couple of quick scores. First, the team went 55 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown. Then, three plays later, Chester forced and recovered a Southside fumble, then scored in one play. The Cyclones pulled that exact same trick in playoff wins against Broome and Liberty. Those turnovers haven’t come through chance or happenstance, though, it is something the team focuses on.

“We try to make sure we do turnover drills…so those guys emphasize on that,” said Tim Boyd, Chester defensive coordinator.

In a lot of ways, Floyd said his team will see some of itself in Union County. The Cyclones do the majority of their damage on the ground. The Cyclones have two players (Pha’Leak Brown and Stan Mills) that have already gone past 1,000 yards for the season and quarterback Zan Dunham is right on the threshold of doing so. Also like Union, this is a vastly different team than the one that scrimmaged Union County more than three months ago. Dunham, a freshman, has grown into his role as starting quarterback. The defense has been a strength all year but is playing its best football of the year right now and the confidence level is what you would expect from an undefeated team. Floyd said, though, that will not turn into overconfidence.

“We are staying humble, hungry and focused,” Floyd said.

Kickoff tonight at Union County is scheduled for 7:30.