TRAVELERS REST - Three years ago, when South Carolina High School officials conducting their bi-annual realignment of schools, they decided to divide the 24 Upstate AAA schools into three 8-team conferences rather than four 6-team conferences.
The result was that Travelers Rest and Greenville, two teams who traditionally anchored what is known as the Peach Blossom AAA, were moved into the tough Western AAA region.
Neither team prospered much in their new surroundings. Greenville, which had developed into a powerhouse in Peach Blossom, was unable to take the Western AAA conference crown, falling behind Belton-Honea Path the first year, and Daniel the second.
Travelers Rest, which had been a middle-of-the-pack school, found its way to the Western AAA basement. The first season Travelers Rest finished with a 2-8 record, including a 1-6 conference mark (the lone win was over Woodmont). The Devildogs followed that with a 0-10 campaign last season.
Winless only starts to describe how bad last season was for Travelers Rest. The Devildogs averaged giving up almost 47 points per game, and only scored 20 points all season. Travelers Rest was shut out seven out of 10 games last season, including the final four games of the year.
How could the program that made teams nervous with running back Will Ford just a few seasons ago drop to such depths?
The answer, according to this year's squad, is that it hasn't.
Coach Shane Clark, looking for his first winning season since his rookie year in 2004, may have taken some beatings the past two years, but he has freely used younger players. With experience and a little bit of growth, the Devildogs seem ready for revenge this season.
Travelers Rest, Berea and Greenville have now moved back into what can again be called the Peach Blossom conference. The Devildogs opened their season with a non-conference matchup against rival Berea (the two teams will play again the last game of the season in a game that will count in the conference standings). Last season Berea defeated Travelers Rest 21-0. Believe it or not, that was the closest the Devildogs came to victory in 2007.
Traveler Rest topped Berea 38-14 in the season opener, making the Devildogs' first win in the series since 2004.
The next week Travelers Rest shocked Riverside 19-13.
Last week's 24-3 loss to rival Blue Ridge cost the Devildogs some momentum, but Travelers Rest will try to regain that Friday night as they host Pickens.
The Blue Flame are on a roll, coming off a 48-30 win over arch rival Easley. The win broke a four-game winning streak the Green Wave had in the series.
Pickens offense is averaging an incredible 46 points per game, led by Kelby Jones, who rushed for 185 yards and three touchdowns against Easley. Quarterback James Lawson threw for 245 yards and two touchdowns, giving the Blue Flame a well-rounded attack..
After Friday night's game at Travelers Rest, Pickens hosts former Western AAA rival Berea the next week before opening conference play against Seneca Oct. 3. The Blue Flame would love to start Western AAA play with an undefeated record.
With Seneca and Belton Honea Path winless so far this season, the Western AAA title could come down to Pickens vs. defending conference champs Daniel on Halloween, the last week of the regular season.
If the Blue Flame continues to roll, Pickens could pick up its first conference title in more than a quarter of a century.
Easley, Eastside each searching for first win
The good new for Easley and Eastside as the two teams square off at Brice Field in Easley Friday night: one team will earn its first win.
The bad news? The other team will begin its 2008 season with an 0-4 record.
Both teams opened the season 0-3. Both teams had their best offensive outings of this season, yet both lost by double-digit margins.
Eastside fell to Wade Hampton 42-32. The Eagles trailed 21-3 at halftime, but roared back with 29 second half points to trail just by 3 in the fourth quarter. But Wade Hampton scored another touchdown to insure the win and keep the Eagles 0-for-2008.
Receiver Matt Hasty led Eastside with 7 receptions for 181 yards.
Easley was tied with Pickens 17-17 midway through the second quarter. But three Blue Flame touchdowns in the final three minutes of the half spelled doom for the Green Wave.
One positive note for Easley was that freshman Zach Lappin continued to improve at quarterback, passing for 313 touchdowns and four touchdowns against the Blue Flame.
Friday night's contest against Eastside is the Green Wave's final non-conference home game. Easley is on the road for a game against Wren that doesn't count in the Region 1-AAAA standings next week, then the Green Wave travels to Mauldin. Four of Easley's five conference games this season will be played at Brice Field.
Liberty face former conference rival
With a win under its belt, Friday night Liberty will try to earn its first road win since topping Crescent for the Red Devils' only win of last season.
But earning that victory may be tough as the Red Devils will travel to Westminster to take on former conference rivals West-Oak.
The Warriors come into Friday night's game with a 2-1 record, with wins over Walhalla and Landrum and a one-sided loss to Pendleton.
Liberty fell to West-Oak at home last year, 12-9.
Liberty topped the Trojans last week by keeping the ball on the ground, only attempting four passes in the game. Matt Whitworth led the Red Devils with 118 yards.
Daniel hosts Southside
The Daniel Lions enter Friday night's game against Pendleton with a 3-0 record. Still, Daniel seems to play to the level of its competition, with 7-point wins over Easley and Hanna and a one-point win over Westside last week. Odds are Daniel will have to produce more points this week to come up with a win over an explosive Southside team that is averaging more than 40 points a game.
Southside already has a win over AAAA level Wren, and the Tigers' only loss is a one-point decision against Western AAA school Woodmont.
Daniel, highly favored to repeat as Western AAA champions, has yet to hit its offensive groove. That could be dangerous against Southside.