UNION — At 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, Union County’s football program was where every high school team in the country hopes to be at the end of November.
They weren’t eating leftovers and watching NFL football. They were on the practice field preparing for Friday night’s Upper State Championship game.
That hasn’t been the case for the Jackets since they closed out the 2007 season with a 28-7 loss to Chester.
Now, five years later, after entering 3A playoffs as a No. 3 seed, Union County found itself in the hunt for a State Championship bid with only one team — top-seeded Daniel (11-2) in its way.
“Practicing this time of year is always a good thing,” Union County Head Coach Steve Taneyhill said Thursday. “We have played our best football the last three weeks and we will need to play well again Friday. They (Daniel) are a solid all around team.”
Daniel has made it to the Upper State final three of the last five years. Its last appearance was in 2009 when it fell to Clinton, 35-28.
This year, the Lions hadn’t lost a game on the field since week one. Their only other loss came by way of a forfeit due to an ineligible player.
Daniel features junior running back Jae’lonn Oglesby who is already committed to Clemson and averages approximately nine yards per carry. Before Friday night, Oglesby had racked up 2,444 yards rushing.
“He’s the key to their offense and we’ve got to stop him,” Taneyhill said Thursday.
The junior phenom does most of the work offensively for Daniel. While quarterback Andy McCall was 9-13 for 135 yards in their 35-6 win over Chester, the majority of his attempts were short-gain passes and check-downs.
Union County, on the other hand, prefers to air it out although the ground game has also been sound.
Last week, Daniel’s Tyrell Fleming made himself at home in the Chester backfield and sacked quarterback Tommy Sanders three times. Sanders, who’d carried Chester the last few weeks, tossed four interceptions and managed just 115 yards passing on the night.
The Jackets are led by senior Shrine Bowl quarterback Keiston Smith who is coming off a near-stellar performance against A.C. Flora. Smith connected on 16 of 23 passes for 387 yards and three touchdowns and also picked up 120 yards on 15 carries with three touchdowns from the ground to help the Jackets to a 41-38 win.
“He played his best game of the season in the biggest game of the season,” Taneyhill said of his standout quarterback. “He’ll need to do it again this Friday if we’re going to win.”
Union County has a multitude of scoring threats including North-South wide-receiver Chris Booker and will be difficult for even a tough Daniel defense to contain.