Barring some drastic changes during the appeal process, the Batesburg-Leesville Panthers will change from Region 2-AA to Region 4-AA for the next two school years.
The new Region 4-AA will see B-L matched up with longtime rivals Saluda and Newberry along with Columbia, Eau Claire and Gray Collegiate. Saluda is the only team making the change with the Panthers from Region 2-AA.
Abbeville and Ninety Six both move to Region 1-AA, while Silver Bluff returns to the Lower State to Region 5-AA and Fox Creek moves up to Class AAA.
B-L head football coach Gary Adams stated that while the realignment is a proposal at the moment, “unless you have got some great evidence why your team needs to move it is probably going stick.”
“B-L and Abbeville have had a long rivalry with lots of region and state championships. You hate to lose that, but it does kind of hype it up more for the postseason,” Coach Adams said, talking about the current region.
The Abbeville series dates back to 1921 as does the Ninety Six series. The B-L series with Silver Bluff is much more recent, having begun in 1984, but the two teams have played three times in state championship games and seven of the 15 games in the series are playoff contests.
“When people think of Silver Bluff and B-L they think of state championship games. I have built a good relationship with Deangelo (Bryant, Silver Bluff coach) and I kind of hate not picking up the phone and calling him and Jaime (Nickles, Abbeville coach),” Coach Adams said.
In Saluda and Newberry, B-L has two ancient rivals still in the conference. The Saluda rivalry is the oldest and most-played, dating back to 1920 while Newberry dates to 1929. In addition to history, Newberry is also coached by former B-L coach and Adams’ former head coach, Phil Strickland.
“Strickland is supposedly doing two more years. Newberry has been in our region before, and there is a strong history between the teams. It’s a good rivalry,” Coach Adams said. “Now it will be a region game and a familiar face on the other side in Phil Strickland. It will make it an even greater competition.”
Saluda is the current Class AA State Champion, and Coach Adams stated, “Stewart (Young, Saluda coach) and I are both over at the Metro Bowl coaching. Saluda is fresh off a state championship. It is always a great rivalry game. It will be his seventh year at the helm of Saluda and my fourth. They have developed a pretty good program. Last year’s game was an epic, last-second ending. It will be another good two years of football with Saluda.”
Speaking about the new additions, B-L has a long history with Columbia as well, as the first meeting was also in 1920. However, the two teams have only played 21 times in a century.
Coach Adams, who returned to B-L in 2006, stated “my first couple of years here, Columbia was a thorn in our side. We always had to go over there and play them at Memorial Stadium, and they got the best of us (three out of four in the playoffs, 2004-2009). Their coach is trying to get them on the right track and headed in the right direction again.”
B-L and Eau Claire have only met five times in football, with the most recent being in 2010-11. The Shamrocks are traditionally one of the weaker teams in the area. But, Coach Adams stated, “traditionally they have had some pretty decent athletes.”
The new face in the crowd will be Gray Collegiate from West Columbia. The two programs have never played each other, but Adams is familiar with the program. “They put up a lot of points against people this past year. It is one of those teams are you going to be able to score enough points to beat them. They will add another wrinkle to the region. The amount of points they put up last year is a huge concern for me,” he said.
With the realignment also comes new non-conference opportunities.
“We are definitely going to stick with Ridge Spring-Monetta and Gilbert. Those are two games that we will definitely keep,” Coach Adams said.
RS-M will be in Week Zero followed by Gilbert in Week One. Coach Adams added that the rest of the non-conference schedule isn’t set yet, but he is looking to add Swansea with Mid-Carolina remaining on the schedule. The fifth game is up in the air but should be settled soon. It doesn’t appear that Lexington will return to the schedule this year.
Coach Adams stated that there are three teams that are possibilities and hinted at a popular old rival could return to the schedule but didn’t share any details as the game isn’t yet set.
Story by Jay Hendrix / Published December 26, 2019