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It should be easy to forgive the Thomas Heyward Academy Rebels for thinking they've been here before.
Because they've been here before.
For the second season in a row, the Rebels (11-1) travel to Thomas Sumter Academy (7-4) in the second round of the SCISAA Class 2-A playoffs with a trip to the state championship game on the line.
Obviously, the Rebels are hoping for a different outcome. Last season, a more physical Generals team pushed the Rebels around on the way to a 28-7 win.
"This is the exact same situation we were in last year," Thomas Heyward coach Nic Shuford said. "We went up there and they sent us home."
Despite the similarities to last season, Shuford said not much was said about it this week.
"But they all know," he said.
"I didn't think about it much until I realized that we've taken the exact same route as last year," senior quarterback JD Tuten said.
The Rebels gained some measure of revenge earlier this season when they trounced the visiting Generals, 54-14. In that game, Ryan Day carried 13 times for 164 yards and three touchdowns, and scored on a 64-yard fumble return.
"They had two fumbles early on," Tuten said. "They really put it on themselves, and then we put it on them."
Tuten carried nine times for 91 yards and completed 5 of 8 passes for 107 yards and three touchdowns -- two to Seth Jones and one to Bryan Lee Wade. Hayden Daley also pitched in on the ground with five carries for 102 yards and a score.
"We've got to stay focused," Wade said. "We can't think because of what happened the last time we played that they're just going to be pushovers. Every team progresses during the year."
In fact, the Generals have made a major adjustment since the last time these teams played.
"They went more heavy in the backfield," Shuford said. "They added (Brantly Gray), who had been playing guard, into the backfield with their speed guy and their fullback, and they try to pound you."
Senior running back/linebacker Day said it won't change the Rebels' approach.
"They like running power," Day said. "It doesn't change what we do. We just have to keep reading our keys and plugging our gaps and we'll be fine."
"The last time, they gave us the ball on their first two possessions. I don't expect them to do that again," Shuford said. "The key in this game is who comes out fired up and ready to play."
While Thomas Heyward hopes to avenge last season's loss, it's possible the Rebels owe the Generals a bit of gratitude. It was the physical nature of last year's loss that inspired the team to work so hard in the weight room in the offseason to assure they reached this season's goal, the state championship game.
"They've definitely helped make us who we are," Wade said. "We hit the weights a little harder last summer and we put a lot more numbers up on the board. We're a stronger team because of them."
Thomas Heyward (11-1) at Thomas Sumter (7-4), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Thomas Heyward 54, Thomas Sumter 14 (Sept. 21)
The skinny: This is a rematch of last year's second-round game where the Generals tripped up the Rebels, 28-7, and advanced to the state championship game against Hilton Head Christian. The Rebels worked hard in the offseason specifically because of the physical nature of the loss last season.
Players to watch: Brantly Gray is a 250-pound offensive guard the Generals have worked into the backfield to give their offense more of a power game, with two big backs and a speed back behind the quarterback. They still have dangerous Devin Felix on the outside, as well. Of course, Ryan Day is the big horse in the Rebels' stable, rushing 220 times this season for 2,049 yards and 35 touchdowns. He has a string of five straight 200-yard rushing games. QB JD Tuten is nearly back to 100 percent, but it remains to be seen how big a role he'll be allowed to play in the rushing game.
Keys to the game: With the Generals shifting to the power game, Rebels coach Nic Shuford said his team must not get tunnel vision." The key is not letting them lull you to sleep with the run and then they kill you with the play action," he said. If the Rebels stay focused and get their job done on defense, the Generals, like most SCISAA teams, likely have no answer for Day.