Simply narrowing the gap between the football programs at Dillon and Loris isn’t good enough for Jamie Snider.
The second-year Lions coach knows the divide is huge. Dillon’s Jackie Hayes has nearly as many 10-win seasons (17) as games Snider has as a head coach (19). And once again, the Wildcats are one of the favorites to win the Class AA, Division I state title.
Still, Snider isn’t looking for moral victories Friday night when Dillon comes to town.
“That’s what we’re gauged on as coaches in our communities. We’re never going to game plan to keep it close,” Snider said in advance of the meeting between the two undefeated Region VIII-AA teams.
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“Winning the game is not something we talk a lot about. We talk about how we prepare Monday through Thursday leads to Friday. Having four good days of practice can lead to wins on Friday night.”
But will it lead to a win this Friday night?
Loris has an uphill climb, to be sure.
Since losing to Marlboro County, Dillon has won its first three region victories by an average of 37 points. Last week against Marion, back-up tailback Anthony Blue rushed for 222 yards and three touchdowns. And he’s not even the Wildcats’ best player.
East Carolina commit and regular starter Jabo Lee is expected to make his return for Dillon (7-1 overall, 3-0 Region VIII-AA) Friday night after being injured in the preseason.
“The one thing about Dillon is the cupboard is never going to be bare,” Snider said. “And that’s a good thing – for them.”
Loris, however, is proving to have a similar ability to re-stock.
Tradition of defense
Last season, a Loris team that was replacing the majority of starters from the 2010 squad won nine games and earned a first-round bye for the Class AA playoffs.
The Lions, specifically on the defensive side of the ball, were playing with a chip on their shoulder. Few believed they’d be as good as the 23-player senior class from the year before.
It was a similar theme this August, when outsiders again believed Loris had lost too much.
“I knew from the get-go that each player was going to be better than the ones last year and the year before,” junior defensive back Ryan Bellamy said. “It’s about doing the right thing.
“Our defense, we prepare for nobody to score against us. When they score, that shouldn’t have happened.”
More often than not, it hasn’t happened.
Loris’ first-rate defense from a year ago pales in comparison to the kind of figures this season’s team is putting up. The Lions (6-2, 3-0) have forced 25 turnovers (15 fumbles and 10 interceptions) and given up a measly 190 yards per game. The points-per-game tally is even more ridiculous. Opponents have scored only 62 points, an average of 7.75 per contest.
Teams are scoring on fewer than 10 percent of their overall possessions.
Like Dillon, Loris lost in its final non-region game before having three of its best games of the year. The Lions shut out Marion and Waccamaw before giving up eight points to Mullins in a big win last week. In that game, Loris recorded eight sacks and allowed four first-half rushing yards.
“When Mullins scored Friday night, it was 14-0. Our kids on defense were hot,” Snider said. “They were very upset at themselves.”
It is part of the mentality Snider and defensive coordinator Adrain Grady have created. That defense propelled Loris to a seven-win 2010 and a nine-win 2011, as well as into a position to again compete for a region title this season.
Year ahead of schedule
Several times this year Snider has brought up the youth he’s working with.
The front seven on defense doesn’t include a senior starter. They’re all juniors and sophomores, including two-way star Levi Moody, who doubles as one of the area’s top rushers and the Lions’ starting nose guard.
The group of relatively young players, however, isn’t so young any more after eight games.
That’s a positive, because the level of maturity and execution may need to be near perfect in order to take down Dillon. The Wildcats are ranked No. 2 in Class AA and have at least three players who will ink NCAA Division-I college scholarships on National Signing Day. Starting offensive linemen Bryce King and D.J. Park have verbally committed to the University of South Carolina.
Still, as improbable as a win Friday night may seem, even an upset doesn’t mean Loris is at its apex. The Lions have the regular-season finale at Aynor (6-2, 2-1) next week, and they will also need a win there, regardless of Friday night’s result.
“Win or lose, this is a game; it’s not the game,” Snider said. “… The playoffs don’t start until after week 10. We don’t want to put all our eggs in one basket.”
That might have been a problem a year ago when Loris played Dillon. Both teams were undefeated at that point, and Dillon remained that way with a 57-0 trouncing.
“In my head,” Bellamy said, “It’s not going to end up the same way.”