Aynor senior Hunter Windham wasn’t too interested in exactly how Loris lost to Dillon last week.
He saw the score was close, and while he planned on watching plenty of game film, he said the fact that Loris nearly pulled the upset has zero impact on his team’s match-up with the Lions Friday night.
After all, there’s a reason Aynor is in the position it’s in, and getting too worked up over an opponent – even one as talented as Loris – doesn’t do the Blue Jackets any good.
It doesn’t matter that Loris lost to the perennial state title contenders 21-14 while Aynor lost to that same school by four touchdowns.
“I’m not going to put too much stock in comparing scores,” Windham said. “Scores, numbers and statistics can be misleading. I think we just have to come Friday night and play our game. We have to run power and hit a few plays. I think it’s anybody’s ball game, and I think it’s going to come down to the fourth quarter.”
Still, the Aynor running back isn’t going to shy away from what Friday night’s match-up means.
“This is probably the biggest game we’ve had at home as long as I’ve been watching Aynor football,” he said.
There’s plenty of evidence to back that up.
This game will decide whether Loris or Aynor finishes second in Region VIII-AA. And while both teams are headed to the playoffs, the winner is basically guaranteed of at least one home playoff game. Aynor, which will be heading to the Class AA, Division II postseason, is also still alive for a first-round bye in the postseason.
That would be undeniably huge for an Aynor team that last year won its first playoff game in two decades. Much like Loris coach Jamie Snider said before and after last weeks’ game against Dillon, though, this is “a” game, not “the” game.
Aynor has made sure of that by playing solid ball throughout the season.
After roughing up four of its five non-region opponents – all of which were from Region VIII-A – the Blue Jackets have for the most part continued their roll in division play. Aynor (7-2 overall and 3-1 in Region VIII-AA) is averaging 38 points per game and have scored at least 52 points three times.
That includes last week’s 58-22 win over Mullins.
Outsiders can bash the Blue Jackets’ non-region schedule all they want. But so far Aynor has backed up its preseason expectations with that 3-1 start in Region VIII-AA.
“Early in the season, it was a big deal,” coach Jody Jenerette said of the criticism of playing only teams from the state’s smallest class. “A lot of teams we played, play those same teams. I think we got a bad rap because we stayed in that same region. But monetarily, old rivalries, it made sense to play those people.”
It helped sustain much of the momentum Aynor built with last year’s playoff victory. Using two extra full weeks of practice in the postseason last year, the Blue Jackets matured inexperienced players and got the older ones to take on bigger roles.
Most noticeably, that is on offense. Windham is leading the team with 933 yards rushing. Fellow seniors Damion Riggins (698 yards) and Ronique Smith (580 yards) are also putting up yards in significant bunches.
And junior quarterback Nathan Peeples had arguably the best game of his career last week when he threw for 213 yards in the win over Mullins.
It’s proved the team had the ability to win some games. With a victory Friday night or in the playoffs, the Blue Jackets will have the most wins for the program since it went 8-4 in 1990. Back then, the team was competing in Class A.
Funny thing is, it took a loss to an opponent from the state’s smallest class this season to bring Aynor together.
The Blue Jackets were leading Lake View with about 3 minutes to go in the season opener back on Aug. 17 before a pair of late scores gave the Wild Gators the victory. It was then the team had a discussion of whether or not this was going to be the same old Aynor team or it was going to make good on a decent amount of potential.
“They threw a Hail Mary and we had to face a fork in the road,” Windham said. “I think we took the better road.”
Contact IAN GUERIN at firstname.lastname@example.org