When Philip Simmons High School opened its doors in 2017, the football program began as a junior varsity squad with freshmen and sophomores.
The Iron Horses won eight games that season, but head coach Eric Bendig knew the move to varsity football in 2018 would be more challenging. Philip Simmons won only one game that season, and in 2019 won two games.
After the biggest win in school history earlier this season, a 3-0 decision over perennial power Timberland, the Iron Horses secured a second-place finish in Region 6-AA and earned a spot in the Class AA Lower State playoffs. Philip Simmons travels to Region 5-AA champion Pelion on Friday for its first postseason game in school history.
“We sort of earmarked this group a few years ago, feeling like 2020 could be a special season if it all worked out,” Bendig said. “We have 15 seniors and 12 of them have been with us for all four years. It’s a special group in terms of their leadership and their impact on our program. They have laid the foundation.”
Philip Simmons is 3-3 in this pandemic-shortened season, including close losses to Class AAA Hanahan and Bishop England.
“We’ve had to adapt and adjust to a lot of challenges but I have been enjoying the ride with these guys,” Bendig said. “This is just a good group to be around every day.”
Among the top performers this season are senior linebacker Tyler Harper and senior running back Peyton Woolridge. Harper will leave the program as the career tackle leader with more than 300.
Hanahan head coach Art Craig is no stranger to the postseason, having guided Timberland to 18 playoff appearances and two state titles during his time there.
Craig moved to Hanahan for 2020, inheriting a program that won just one game in 2019. The Hawks improved to five wins this fall and finished second in Region 6-AAA behind Oceanside Collegiate.
Hanahan’s first-round opponent is Dillon, the state’s top-ranked AAA. Friday’s game will be the 11th time Craig has coach against Dillon in the playoffs.
“We only beat them once but we had several really close games, games that came down to the end,” Craig said. “We could probably play each other without even watching film because I know what they do and they know me. Unfortunately, I did watch film and boy are they good.”
Hanahan will face one of the top offenses in the state in Dillon’s balanced offense led by running back Nemo Squire and receiver Ahmari Huggins-Bruce, who has committed to Louisville.
Hanahan’s offense is spearheaded by senior Josh Shaw and freshman Kevon Rivera, who have combined for nearly 1,200 rushing yards this season.
In Class AAAAA, Summerville visits top-ranked Dutch Fork. The Silver Foxes own a 46-game winning streak and have won four consecutive state titles. A fifth title would be a state record.
Goose Creek hosts a dangerous and offensive-minded Carolina Forest squad. The Panthers’ are ranked in the top 10 and their only loss came against Sumter, another top 10 team.
Speaking of Sumter, the unbeaten Gamecocks will host Berkeley in a first-round game, while second-ranked Fort Dorchester hosts River Bluff.
James Island earned an at-large berth in Class AAAA and is rewarded with a trip to second-ranked North Myrtle Beach, the champion of Region 6-AAAA.
Oceanside Collegiate will host Aynor at The Citadel’s Johnson Hagood Stadium in a Class AAA showdown of ranked and one-loss teams.
Woodland’s high-scoring offense will host a physical Barnwell defense. Barnwell has won the last two Lower State titles but failed to win a region title this season.
Baptist Hill takes to the road for a Class A Lower State matchup with Carver’s Bay. The lone Lowcountry SCISA team still in the playoffs is St. John’s Christian, which takes on Lee Academy in a Class A semifinal game. The winner advances to the state championship next weekend at Charleston Southern.
FRIDAY’S PLAYOFF SCHEDULE
SCHSL Lower State
Summerville at Dutch Fork
Carolina Forest at Goose Creek
Berkeley at Sumter
River Bluff at Fort Dorchester
West Florence at Beaufort
Myrtle Beach at South Aiken
James Island at North Myrtle Beach
May River at North Augusta
Aynor at Oceanside
Brookland-Cayce at Camden
Lake City at Gilbert
Hanahan at Dillon
Andrews at Cheraw
Philip Simmons at Pelion
Barnwell at Woodland
Andrew Jackson at Marion
Baptist Hill at Carvers Bay
Allendale-Fairfax at Lake View
CE Murray at Bamberg-Ehrhardt
Johnsonville at Whale Branch
SCISA State Semifinals
Andrew Jackson at Richard Winn
Laurens Academy at Holly Hill Academy
St. John’s Christian at Lee Academy
Dillon Christian at Thomas Heyward
Orangeburg Prep at Carolina Academy
Pee Dee Academy at Hilton Head Christian
Ben Lippen at Laurence Manning
Augusta Christian at Hammond