Da’Shaun Aiken’s secret didn’t stay under wraps for long.
The Carvers Bay quarterback had a preseason mission. Aiken decided it was his duty to make sure teammates weren’t adding any bulletin-board material to opponents’ locker rooms.
He quickly accustomed himself to scouring Twitter and Facebook.
Offending parties were then subject to a not-so-nice conversation from their senior captain.
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“I try to stress to them ‘I’ve been here. It’s not about the talk. Talk is cheap,’ ” Aiken said. “If I see something, I tell them about it the next day at school. I’ve also got their numbers, so I’ll send them a text.
“They started to catch on.”
Aiken’s approach was probably not as important for some games as others. Carvers Bay (8-1 overall, 4-0 Region VII-A) has rattled off eight straight wins, including an average margin of victory of 36 points in those four divisional games. The Bears have steamrolled into the state’s top 10.
It just so happens that Friday’s opponent, Timmonsville, has taken a similar path. The Whirlwinds have buried opponents under a 48-points-per-game scoring average. They’ve also grabbed a coveted spot in the statewide rankings.
Friday’s game will dictate the Region VII-A champion, an honor that this season could position the Bears as high as the No. 1 seed in the Class A, Division I Lower State playoff bracket.
That would be a major coup for a team trying to buck a lack of recent postseason success.
“We just want to get this one and playoffs will kind of concentrate on themselves,” coach Nate Thompson said. “We’ve gotten back to where we were. You want to try to make some strides. We’ve picked our stride up. Everything is about getting back to where we were.”
After winning state titles in 2002 and 2006, and playing for a pair more in 2007 and 2008, the recent early playoff exits or exclusion altogether for Carvers Bay is even a bit of a running joke among other schools. After all, those coaches don’t feel too sorry for the Bears’ “drought”.
However, the fact that they’ve not advanced beyond the second round of the playoffs in the last three seasons is a pressure-packed reality.
Carvers Bay will start trying to buck that trend next week, but it could get a jumpstart Friday. The Bears may have already done enough to warrant a home playoff game even with a loss against the Whirlwinds. A win eliminates any doubt. It also – as hard as this is to believe given two state titles – gives Carvers Bay its second region championship in school history (2002).
Now, it’s up to guys like Aiken to complete the turnaround. The four-year starter has had a season worthy of speaking up to his teammates.
The quarterback has thrown for 969 yards and 16 touchdowns (compared with just one interception) and rushed for 242 yards and another nine scores. Defensively, he also has a pair of interceptions to go along with a fumble recovery and two defensive touchdowns.
He’s not the only one contributing all the big plays that have turned Carvers Bay back into a state-title contender. Leading rusher Devin Cuttino has 639 yards and six touchdowns and six of receiver Shaquan Durand’s 18 receptions have gone for scores. Junior tackle Naquez Pringle is a key piece on a defensive five-man front that has stoned opponents. Durrand, a two-way star like Aiken, has a team-high 92 combined tackles and is tied for the team lead with eight tackles for loss.
That defense will be put to the test against Timmonsville, though. The Whirlwinds (8-1, 4-0) have also been burying opponents under their own big point totals.
Thanks to Aiken, though, the Bears won’t be adding fuel to the fire. It’s a message he hopes will be part of his legacy.
Turning around the team’s recent November dry spell would help, too.
“All the years [without playoff wins] we had the ability, but we had discipline problems and a lack of leadership,” he said. “This team is still young. We only have seven seniors. The ones behind us are the ones who will have the experience. We’re not just doing it for the seniors.”