The 7 Sports Team is counting down the 10 best high school football programs in the area during 7 Sports Director Pete Yanity’s 30 seasons covering high school football on Channel 7. State titles, overall wins, and dominant eras were taken into account when compiling the list of Pete’s Top 10.
State Titles: 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 Runner-up: 2009 Playoff Appearances: 25 Semifinal appearances: 15
When discussing high school football in the Upstate over the past 30 seasons, it doesn’t take long for the Byrnes Rebels to enter the conversation. They consumed an entire decade, winning six state championships in the 2010s alone and eight in a 10-season span.
The program is rooted in history as well, with legendary coaches such as Bo Corne, Bobby Bentley, and Chris Miller. But it goes beyond the coaching staff. Byrnes has produced some of the best and most notable talent in the state, especially over the last 30 seasons. From WIlly Korn and Prince Miller to Marcus Lattimore and Shuler Bentley, the Rebels have had plenty of ‘next level’ talent throughout the past three decades.
Competing in the always tough Region 2-4A, the Rebels won four consecutive state titles as a 4A Division II program from 2002-2005. The South Carolina High School League then modified the 4A playoff selection process, reconfiguring the qualifications to play in the Big 16 playoffs from automatic entry to a merit-based plan, enabling schools outside of the 16 largest in the state to qualify for the postseason against the largest schools. As a Big 16 playoff team, the Rebels won state titles in 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011 and fell to rival Dorman in 2009.
The Bobby Bentley Era (1995-2006; 2013)
After working as an assistant coach under Fred Coan for five years, Bobby Bentley was named the head coach of Byrnes Football in 1995. It was an easy decision as Bentley had strong ties to the program, having played quarterback as a senior on the 1985 4A Division II state championship runner-up under coach Bo Corne, who he admired growing up.
“From elementary school days on I knew I was going to be the coach at Byrnes High School. That was my goal, I didn’t have a plan B,” said Bentley. “So I wanted to be Bo Corne.”
He went on to play defensive back at Presbyterian College. Upon graduation, he took a teaching and coaching job at Byrnes, where he sharpened his skills in preparation to eventually lead a program of his own.
In the early ‘90s, Byrnes struggled as a whole. They missed the playoffs from 1990-1992, and despite a 10-win season in ‘93, were eliminated in the first round in 4A Division II. When Coan elected to step down following the 1994 season, Bobby Bentley was promoted the job of his dreams.
Bentley’s Rebels had a difficult run in his first two seasons, putting up a paltry 3-20 record. They did, however, reach the postseason for three straight seasons from ‘96-’98, recording a playoff win in two of them. They missed the playoffs again in 1999, but at the turn of the century, Bentley was on the verge of taking Byrnes to new heights. At the end of the decade, Byrnes had secured significant victories over region, including an overtime win at Spartanburg, and a win at Gaffney.
“[I remember] my middle school coach, coach Sizemore, who I coached his son later, walking off the field with his arm around me and said ‘Bobby, this is the one that’s gonna turn things around’,” said Bentley. “Those games kind of became those stepping stones to where we became in the 2000s.”
It appeared the Rebels were ready to compete for a state championship by 2001, with senior Anthony Johnson at quarterback. However, they fell on a cold, rainy night in a 4A Division II semi-final contest against Conway at home.
“Many believe we were the better team and it’s cliched but we should have won that game,” Bentley said. ”I remember seeing (wide receiver) Terrell Allen lying face down on the field in a puddle.”
2002 State Championship Run
Entering the 2002 season, the Rebels had begun to build momentum as a program having reached the third round and the semi-finals, respectively, in the previous two seasons.
And in 2002 they started a booster club thanks, in part, to former Clemson head coach Danny Ford, who encouraged it at a speaking event. The booster club was essential for many reasons, but it was key in their ability to play nationally ranked teams down the road. More on that later.
The 2002 team was full of talent, and they were eager to return to the upper state championship in hopes of avenging their loss the year prior. Justin Fulbright was the centerpiece of the offense.
Short in stature, but large in presence, Fulbright became a true leader in 2002, and had developed a reputation for reading defenses and checking off at the line of scrimmage.
“[Fulbright] was known to be an audible king,” said Bentley.
That skillset came in handy on more than one occasion, and Fulbright went on to set the school record for passing yards in a season, with 3,320. He had a wealth of options in the passing game, too, with exceptional receivers in Terrell Allen, Bradley Robinson, Jomar Wright, and Octavius Love.
The Rebels surged through region play and finished the regular season 10-1.
Byrnes dominated from start to finish against Crestwood in a 42-7 playoff-opening win, and followed that up with another beatdown the following week against Battery Creek. They were matched-up with Mauldin in the 4A Division II semi-finals.
The Rebels got off to a fast start, scoring on their first two possessions of the game, on a Fulbright to Wright touchdown pass and a Fulbright goal line plunge. But Mauldin’s defense tightened up and prevented Byrnes from reaching the end zone again for the remainder of the game. The Rebels defense had an even bigger impact, though, holding the Mavericks to just seven points, their second lowest total of the season. Byrnes hung on to win, 15-7.
In the state championship game, Byrnes got the showdown it was hoping for: a rematch against Conway.
“It mattered,” said Bentley. “It was good that it was Conway. It was for that 2001 team.”
It was the third straight season the two met in the playoffs, with the series even at 1-1.
The Rebels jumped out to an early lead on Conway, applying pressure on the Tigers. Fulbright and Robinson connected on three first-half touchdowns and the Rebels had gained all the momentum. But Conway wasn’t going to go quietly.
The Tigers rallied in the second half but Byrnes’ defense halted the Tigers at key moments, maintaining the Rebels’ grasp on the lead and the momentum.
Despite a quality comeback effort by Conway, Byrnes got its revenge, winning, 34-28.
They had won their second 4A Division II title, as the Rebels won 3A state titles in 1976 and 1982, and their first 4A Division II crown in 1986.
And while many standouts departed following the ‘02 season, a new crop of playmakers was ready to take the program to even newer heights in ‘03.
2003 State Championship Run
2003 featured a new crop of talent on the Byrnes roster, especially on offense with running back Rodricuz Williams and quarterback Trey Elder. Elder, who was the backup to Fulbright during the ‘02 season, had only seen time as a JV quarterback and his performance in the final game of the 2002 season did not instill much confidence.
“So we win the state championship. Lo and behold I’ve got Trey Elder as quarterback,” said Bentley. “He just threw three interceptions and two fumbles in his last (JV) game and I’m like ‘you’re my quarterback.’ But it paid off.”
Elder more than exceeded expectations that season, he shattered them, breaking individual and program records along the way.
“Tremendous leader,” said Bentley. “He was just a gym rat.”
By regular season’s end, they were 11-0 and seemingly unstoppable.
Byrnes had long been a program built on the passing game but in 2003 they were proficient both through the air and on the ground, thanks in large part to Williams. He shined brightest in the Rebels’ playoff opener against South Florence.
Williams rushed for 254 yards on 17 carries, the highest single-game rushing total in program history, as Byrne’s defeated S. Florence, 52-35.
Byrnes’ balanced attack carried over throughout the remainder of the postseason as they beat Greenwood in the third round and then Berkeley in the state semi-finals. They had punched their ticket back to state and had outscored their playoff opponents, 134-61.
Ahead of the state title game, Byrnes had set numerous individual and team records, most notably points in a season (572), and yards in a season (6,365). Elder broke his predecessor’s record by throwing for 3,558 yards, scored the most rushing touchdowns in a season (18), and completed a school record 32 passes in their semi-final win over Berkeley. He added 35 touchdowns through the air while Williams amassed over 1,000 yards and scored 14 touchdowns. As if that wasn’t enough, Wright also caught 104 passes, which ranks fifth all-time in state history.
The Rebels were a complete team, and were matched up with Conway yet again with a chance to become state champions in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. This time, though, they were facing their former defensive coordinator, Mike Martin, who left in 2003 to lead the Tigers defense.
However, an injury to Wright forced the Rebels to switch some things up, as Bentley explains.
“We throw a post to Jomar Wright. He comes up limping,” Bentley recalls. “It’s the first time I’ve ever heard of Lisfranc fracture. He Lisfranc-fractures his foot, but at the time we don’t know it. But Jomar was our guy that we threw to on third down. Critical situations we’re going to find Jomar Wright. [At] halftime he says ‘coach, I can play, but don’t count on me on third down.’ So he said ‘but put me in motion, they’re going to put two people on me.’ So we ran the ball in several key situations when we would bring Jomar in motion to separate the defense.”
The move worked, as Williams shredded through the Tigers defense to the tune of four touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Rebels defense shut down Conway throughout, and the Tigers mustered only 14 points. Byrnes won it, 40-14, repeating as state champs for the first time.
Elder was named Mr. Football, and went on to have a successful career at Appalachian State. But with Elder being a senior, if they were going to repeat once again, they were going to have to do it with another quarterback, their third in as many years.
2004 State Championship Run
Byrnes opened up play in 2004 with a brand new quarterback under center for the third straight year, only this time it was an underclassman taking over the reins. Sophomore standout Willy Korn, who is now one of the most recognized high school players in the history of South Carolina athletics, stepped in to fill some big shoes. Korn had a tough task in front of him, having to live up to the play of Elder, Fulbright, and others who came before him.
He crushed all those expectations.
“My boys will tell you they wanted to be Willy Korn,” said Bentley. “He made me a better coach. He made all of his teammates better.”
Korn was aided by another talented receiving corps, which included seniors Reynaldo Hunter and Freddie Brown III. junior Prince Miller was a prominent pass catcher as well. Miller played both ways, and was a standout cornerback for Chris Miller’s defense. He was later named team MVP. Williams was again the team’s lead running back, and senior lineman Trey Bailey helped protect the young signal-caller.
The Rebels had been riding a 25-game winning streak, dating back to the 2002 regular season. And behind Korn they ran that up to 29 games as they put together a 4-0 start. But a run-in with Gaffney in week five ended their streak in a 12-10 loss.
A refocused group never lost again, finishing the regular season, 9-1.
Under defensive coordinator Chris Miller, who returned to the Byrnes staff that season having served in the same role when Bentley was a player in the ‘80s, Byrnes held its first two playoff opponents to just ten combined points, while the offense tallied over 70. In the 4A Division II state semi-finals, they rolled past Aiken, 59-26.
In the 2004 4A Division II state championship, Byrnes took on Irmo in what was the Rebels’ third-consecutive title-game appearance.
It was clear from the start that the Yellow Jackets were going to have a difficult time stopping the Rebels offense. On the opening drive, Korn led the Rebels on a nine-play, 83-yard drive that ended with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Korn to Miller.
Not long after that, Korn suffered an injury, taking him out for the remainder of the game. Daniel Barton was in, and he lived up to the moment. Though it was tough for Korn to have to watch from the sidelines, Bentley said he showed great character in the face of adversity.
“Willy Korn was Daniel Barton’s best friend,” said Bentley. “So he goes down in the state championship game, Barton comes in, lights it up, [and] his number one fan was Willy Korn.”
With Korn cheering him on, Barton threw four touchdown passes to four different players as Byrnes racked up a 35-0 lead. In the first two quarters alone, the Rebels had already thrown for 245 yards en route to their third-straight state championship with the 35-7 win in Columbia.
2005 State Championship Run
In 2005, Byrnes Football had the weight of the world on its shoulders. It had just recorded a third straight state championship win with its third different quarterback, proving it was a program resilient enough to withstand key departures. With that, however, came the expectation that they needed to live up to the reputation, especially with Korn returning as a junior.
They also had Miller coming back for his senior season, along with fellow wideout Matt Quinn.
The offense was again nearly unstoppable. And by mid-season they were 5-0 with a win over Gaffney and a record-setting performance against Greenwood, putting up more points against the Eagles than any team had in the program’s history. They began region play against Spartanburg, scoring 55 points against the Vikings. They wrapped up the region beating Dorman, Mauldin, and Boiling Springs. By the end of the regular season, they were undefeated, and a top seed in the 4A Division II upper state playoffs.
A 25-point win over Laurens kick-started the Rebels’ strong playoff push, and they shut out York in the second round, 45-0. The defense continued to dominate while the offense sustained long, scoring drives. They thwarted Aiken in the state semi-finals, 42-14, and was back for a fourth state championship.
The Rebels knew they were going to be facing their toughest competition in the 4A Division II state championship game against Richland Northeast. The Cavaliers had nine division-one athletes on its roster. Coach Bentley knew it was an intimidating lineup, but was determined to rally his group.
“We put up all the pictures of all nine Division One players in the locker room,” said Bentley. “Told all our players ‘we didn’t have a chance against a college football team’.”
The statement served as motivation for the Rebels, and once the title game drew closer, Bentley assured his team they had the tools to come away victorious.
“We built these guys up all week, and then on Thursday started saying, ‘but we’ve got a great plan, and we feel very good about the plan’,” said Bentley. “‘We’re gonna light these guys up. We will not punt, and we’re gonna onside kick when we get up 28 to 35 points’.”
Byrnes came out firing, scoring on each of its first two possessions of the game. First Miller broke free for an 11-yard touchdown run and then Korn found some room on a 30-yard ground score.
Despite holding opponents to under ten points per game all season long, the Cavaliers were no match for the Rebels’ attack. Korn led the team with 131 yards on the ground, while Derek Young added 101 yards on 13 carries. Korn also added 131 yards through the air and a touchdown.
Byrnes’ defense held Richland Northeast to just two first-half first downs, and the Cavs’ only points of the game came on a third-quarter interception return for a touchdown.
“It’s probably one of the best teams we’ve played, but we had a great game plan and the guys executed” said Bentley.
Byrnes never let its foot off the gas, even with reserves in during the fourth quarter, and won by a large margin, 51-8. They had secured a 25-game winning streak, but more important had accomplished four state championships in a row, which matches the current state record.
“That ‘05 team arguably, probably one of the best high school football teams around,” said Bentley.
By season’s end, Byrnes had scored 777 points, and allowed just 147, an astonishing contrast.
Korn was named the South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year, throwing 53 touchdowns, which is third all-time in S.C. He and the offense were at the very top of high school football. But little did he, and they, know that this win would mark the end of an era.
The Rebels began the following season with nationally-televised wins over Glades Central of Florida at Nixon Field and legendary high school power Moeller on their home field in Cincinnati.
Another game on national TV came on a Thursday night late in the season as they took a winning streak that had swelled to 33 to Gaffney where they fell to one of their Region 2-4A rivals.
In the game against Glades Central, Byrnes unveiled new amenities at its football stadium, and cemented the fact that a football game in Duncan was going to be more than your high school game.
“It wasn’t just football, it was an event,” said Bentley. “And I think that Glades game kind of brought it all together to a paramount deal.This is what you want your kids to grow up into.”
Korn once again was named Gatorade Player of the Year, and was a Mr. Football finalist, though that award went to Gaffney star Malcolm Long. Still, Byrnes was among the top teams expected to be back in the title game. After a convincing win over Wando, 56-7 in the playoff opener, it seemed those expectations were more than warranted. But they had to travel to Gaffney in the next round and Long and the Indians made it a second win on the season with a 16-13 victory, ending the Rebels’ hopes for a fifth straight title.
And just like that, the Willy Korn and Bobby Bentley eras came to a close. Korn went on to play for Clemson, Marshall, and North Greenville.
Bentley, who was named Coach of the Year by the S.C. Football Coaches Association, was named head coach at his alma mater Presbyterian the following January after 12 years and four state championships and a run in which he made Byrnes a national name.
The Chris Miller Era (2007-2012)
Defensive Coordinator Chris Miller was an obvious choice to replace Bentley as head coach of the Byrnes Rebels in 2007. Miller spent three years as a defensive coordinator under Bentley, and had been successful as head coach of Broome in the 1990s.
“It was tough for all of us as coaches,” said Miller. “We just felt like if we stay together it’s just going to continue. A lot of the coaches on the staff came to me and said ‘why don’t you take it over? We’ll be behind you?’ So it was a little scary to be in this town, and the success that they’ve had, and now I was going to be the one at the top.”
2007 State Championship Run
By 2007, Byrnes had the opportunity to play in the Big 16 playoffs. And although there were significant playmakers lost to graduation, they had some up-and-coming stars waiting in the wings. None more impactful than sophomore running back, Marcus Lattimore, someone
Bentley had watched closely.
“You knew Marcus was special coming through youth league,” said Bentley.
In at quarterback was Bentley’s stepson, sophomore Chas Dodd. Together, Dodd, Lattimore, and primary receiver Ricco Sanders led the Rebels offense, which scored 617 points. Defensively, behind standout defensive end Everette Dawkins, they allowed just 220.
Just two seasons removed from an undefeated campaign, the 2007 Rebels finished the regular season with an unblemished record. With a relatively young group, Byrnes’ established playoff prowess lifted the Rebels past Hillcrest and Dorman in the first two rounds.
The Rebels were host to Northwestern in the Big 16 upper state championship game with Byrnes riding a 46-game winning streak on its home turf. The top-seeded Rebels were on a roll coming into the state semi-final bout, with Dodd having thrown 30 touchdowns and Lattimore adding 22 on the ground. The scoring in this November battle was stymied, however, but Byrnes came out victorious as they shut out the Trojans, 14-0.
In his first year leading the program, Chris Miller brought them back to the championship.
“They just continued to make the run, and do the things we had to do and we made it back,” said Miller.
In the 2007 Big 16 state championship game, Byrnes took on storied Summerville.
The game was close through the first period, with Lattimore capping off the opening drive with a touchdown run. And in the early minutes of the second quarter, Byrnes led the Green Wave, 10-9. But then the floodgates opened and the Rebels found the endzone three times over the next seven minutes.
First, Lattimore had a 23-yard run to complete an 85-yard drive. Byrnes went with a squib on the ensuing kick-off and recovered at the Green Wave 25. The Rebels then turned to a trick play, with Nick Jones taking the handoff before pulling up and throwing a touchdown to Jason Logan.
In the waning seconds of the half, Dodd connected with Logan for the team’s fourth touchdown.
By halftime, the Rebels led, 31-9.
The offense had clearly found its rhythm and the defense continued to shut down Summerville’s explosive offense led by quarterback Reid McCollum and receiver A.J Green. The Rebels held the future NFL player Green to just three catches for 29 yards.
Late in the third, facing fourth down, Dodd found Lattimore on a 36-yard touchdown connection to make it a 29-point game. Curtis Thompson added another rushing score and Sam Jones tacked on his second field goal of the game to make the final score 48-9. The Rebels completed the rout and their perfect season.
Dodd finished the game with 325 yards passing and two scores. Lattimore contributed 113 yards rushing and two touchdowns, while three different receivers logged over eighty yards through the air.
“You gotta have some of those players on those teams, but then you gotta have the other ones, the team-oriented players that just do their role and do the things they’re supposed to do and come up with some really big plays themselves,” said Miller. “It was just a complete team.”
And given their youth, there was plenty more to build on in the coming years.
2008 State Championship Run
In 2008, the Byrnes Rebels continued to grow as a team. With a core junior class, headlined by Lattimore and Dodd, the Rebels were even more dominant than the ‘07 championship unit. They scored 627 points, only a few more than the previous year. But the defense was even stingier, allowing just 186 points, holding opposing offenses to seven points or fewer on five occasions in the regular season alone.
By mid-October, the Rebels were 8-0. They were the top-ranked team nationally and on the cusp of completing another unbeaten season. But in a showdown with rival Dorman in Roebuck, Byrnes surrendered a 28-point lead and fell to the Cavaliers, 35-28. Over 15,000 were on hand to witness the upset on a late October Saturday night.
“It was Dorman’s night,” said Miller. “I think they just had our number. I definitely think that helped us. Sometimes we gotta get knocked off to bring us back down and make sure we’re working hard.”
After the loss they dropped in the national polls but Byrnes finished strong, winning the next two contests to finish the regular season 10-1.
They were spectacular in their Big 16 playoff run, first shutting out Spartanburg in the first round and then following that up with a 48-7 rout of Clover. This set up a battle with Dorman in the Big 16 upper state final.
In what had become an epic rivalry, Byrnes toppled Dorman in a 24-13 win, punching their ticket to the state championship game for a second year in a row.
The Rebels took on Sumter in the Big 16 championship contest at Clemson.
The game featured two of the best running backs in the state of South Carolina: Byrnes’ Marcus Lattimore, a future USC Gamecock, and Sumter’s Roderick McDowell, a future Clemson Tiger.
Lattimore won the battle.
The junior running back helped put the Rebels in front early. After the first quarter, it was 10-0, Byrnes. They took a 10-7 lead into the break.
Sumter received the ball to start the second half but it was Byrnes that ended up scoring in the opening seconds. The Gamecocks fumbled the kickoff and the Rebels’ Colby Connor scooped it up, taking back possession at the start of the third. Lattimore found pay dirt on the very next play with a 13-yard touchdown scamper.
The Gamecocks, however, found a groove and began scoring routinely in the second half. But each time they tightened the gap, Byrnes responded with a score of their own.
Lattimore finished with 305 yards rushing, and four touchdowns, as Byrnes defeated Sumter, 31-21.
“I think the last three games in the playoffs he had over 500 yards rushing,” said Miller. “So he was just phenomenal that playoff run.”
Miller had begun his coaching tenure with two state titles and a 29-1 record.
2009 State Runner-Up
The 2009 Rebels made another run at a state championship behind some impressive individual performances from their senior offensive leaders.
Lattimore scored 36 touchdowns and was named Mr. Football. Dodd completed 252 passes, which ranks 13th all time, and tossed 52 touchdowns, fourth all time in the state.
Corey Miller, a star defensive end, was the anchor of a dominant front.
They were 5-0 to start the season, and it was expected. Byrnes was ranked number two in the nation and was set to travel to face top-ranked St. Thomas Aquinas in Florida in front of a national audience.
More than 15,000 were in attendance for what was a shootout spectacle.
The Raiders got the best of the Rebels, winning, 42-34. But it was a mere speed bump for Byrnes on the road to state.
They again went 10-1 in the regular season, which included four games where they scored at least 60 points, including a 85-point effort against Woodland.
Needless to say, Byrnes was confident in its ability to score. And the defense allowed just under 12 points per game, holding teams to under 10 points in seven of them.
It came as no surprise when Byrnes shut out White Knoll in the payoff opener, 58-0. And after scoring 72 points against Mauldin in the regular season, they beat the Mavericks convincingly, 69-28, in the following round.
Spartanburg was on the horizon in the Big 16 upper state championship game.
The Vikings couldn’t slow the Rebels momentum as Byrnes rolled to a 51-16 win on their way to a third straight state title game.
For the third time in as many years Byrnes met Dorman in the postseason, only now it was with the state championship hardware on the line.
Two renowned coaches in Chris Miller and Dave Gutshall were now matched up head-to-head in the most important game of the season.
“I remember going into that, me and coach Gutshall met at Dunkin’ Donuts to exchange film. And we were standing there talking and a guy gets out of his car and says ‘if you all don’t start fighting, I’m going to go inside’,” Miller said with a chuckle.
There was a mutual respect between the programs, but the rivalry had certainly intensified.
“We were just neck-and-neck every time,” said Miller.
Dorman, however, was the first on the board. And the Cavaliers led into the fourth quarter.
But with just under nine minutes left in regulation, Lattimore scored his second touchdown of the game to give Bynes a 17-14 advantage.
The Cavs took the lead back on the following drive. And then an interception return touchdown later in the quarter sealed the championship for Dorman. The Cavaliers won it, 28-17.
“We were struggling to try to get back in it,” said Miller. “They made the plays when they had to and we didn’t do that that day.”
Their bid at a third-straight title had come up short. But the bitter taste was short-lived.
2010 State Championship Run
In 2010 there were some big holes to fill on the Byrnes roster, especially at running back and quarterback, Chas Dodd and Marcus Lattimore had graduated and went on to play at the D-I level.
Senior quarterback Zach Blair and junior running back Shakeem Wharton stepped into the respective voids.
Typically, the Rebels weren’t afraid to challenge themselves and lined-up a nationally televised game at Hoover (Ala.) in the season-opener. While Byrnes lost to the Bucs, 14-0, they realized they had a very talented runner in Wharton, who tallied over 100 all-purpose yards in the loss.
“Shakeem Wharton was big in filling [Lattimore’s] shoes,” said MiIler.
The Rebels rattled off two straight wins after that, but lost to Gaffney in Week Four. Sitting at 2-2, they needed a turnaround quickly if they wanted to be back in contention for a state championship.
Byrnes won six of its next seven games to close the regular season, outscoring opponents 294-93.
Once the postseason hit, Byrnes was full steam ahead. They dismantled Mauldin, 44-14, then topped Dutch Fork, 31-14 in the next round. A stomping of Lexington, 31-7, in the Big 16 upper state championship game put them back in the title game for a fourth-consecutive year.
Byrnes had a chance at revenge as they matched-up with Dorman for the title.
The Cavaliers defeated the Rebels in the regular season, but the Rebels had Dorman’s number in the championship game.
“I think on the first drive we didn’t go anywhere, we had to punt,” said Miller. “And we punted, they make a play, and [Davon Terry] hits a guy so hard and knocks his helmet off. And that set the tone for the day.”
Dorman struggled to move the ball while Wharton shredded through the Cavs defense for 160 yards and three scores.
“That game was when I realized you could run the football and still win,” said Bobby Bentley, who‘d returned to the Rebels as offensive coordinator the prior season.
Blair helped facilitate the offense as the Rebels sustained drives and never relinquished momentum.
“[He] did a phenomenal job all day, making the calls and making the throws,” said Miller.
Byrnes cruised to victory, beating Dorman, 34-14. For the third time in four years, they were state champs.
2011 State Championship Run
There was significant turnover in 2011 and the Rebels were once again having to replace their starting quarterback. It was a battle between Colton Korn and Shuler Bentley during the preseason. Both had siblings that quarterbacked the Rebels at one point.
But in an offseason seven-on-seven competition, a receiver got hurt and Korn filled-in. He was dominant at wideout and he and Bentley formed an instant chemistry. Korn told Miller that they should keep at him receiver because it was best for the team.
“We really fell into it by accident, and Colton took it and ran with it and blew up as a receiver,” said Shuler Bentley.
Bentley was now the starter. And after taking the final kneel-down in the 2010 championship game, this was his moment to shine. He said he pulled from the leaders he had witnessed before him when he was in eighth grade.
“There were so many things you could take away from how to handle yourself as the big fish in a small pond, for someone like [Marcus Lattimore], and then how to really just transform into a Division-I athlete like [Corey Miller] did with how much stuff he did in the weight room and how much extra stuff he did,” Bentley said.
“It was a thing that started way back every year,” said Miller. “These young guys coming up and working hard, and standing there, and watching these guys. ‘Now it’s my turn’.”
With top receiver Akia Booker and impactful defensive linemen in Jamaal Johnson and Rashad “Doc” Dillard, Byrnes had the makings of another talented squad capable of a deep playoff run. But after losses to Myrtle Beach and Gaffney, they were 2-2.
Much like the 2010 team, they were forced to kick it into another gear early on.
“I just remember from that point on Jamaal Johnson and Rashad Dillard could not be blocked,” said Bentley. “It didn’t matter who they were lined up in front of. We all just started to click at the right time.”
The offense took form as well, scoring an average of 52 points over the next five games. The defense recorded two shutouts in that span, and the Rebels finished the season with a 9-2 record.
Byrnes continued to dominate in the postseason. After beating Rock Hill and Summerville by a combined 114-41, they shut out Blythewood in the state semi-finals, 31-0. Despite all the turnover, and an early season slump, Byrnes made it back to state for the fifth time in a row, the first team to reach that feat in Big 16.
The Rebels took on Gaffney in the Big 16 championship game in Death Valley. This time, though, Byrnes came in as the underdog to the undefeated, and top-ranked Indians.
“Outside of our locker room I don’t know how many people actually thought we were actually going to win that game,” said Bentley.
Shrine Bowl quarterback Joey Copeland led Gaffney to the first score of the game in the opening quarter, connecting with C.J. Miller on a touchdown pass to go up 7-0.
But Byrnes capitalized on the first of several Gaffney turnovers. The Rebels made their way into Gaffney territory and were set up for a field goal on fourth down. But instead, Kaleb Patterson took the direct snap and ran for the first down. Moments later, Bentley found Booker on a 15-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-7.
“If we were going down we were going down swinging,” Bentley said. “We had fake punts, we had flea flickers, we had everything installed for that game.”
The defense continued to come up big in key moments. Early in the second quarter, with Gaffney driving, Skip Barnes intercepted Copeland’s pass and returned it 31 yards to the house to give Byrnes the lead.
The Indians, however, came back to tie it on a Copeland run, and after a Byrnes field goal, the Rebels took a 17-14 lead into halftime.
Gaffney tied it up again to start the second half, Byrnes kept its foot on the gas. On their first drive of the third period, Byrnes scored again, this time on a Wharton touchdown run to give them a 24-17 lead.
The defense didn’t let up either.
On a fourth down, Melvin Armstrong stripped Copeland of the football and took it 57 yards for a touchdown, the Rebels’ second defensive score of the game.
Gaffney closed the gap again to within a score and faced a fourth down late in the game. Copeland’s pass sailed past Quinshad Davis and Byrnes was able to run out the clock to secure victory.
“The second that ball went over his head it was just like the whole world, just fireworks went everywhere,” said Bentley. “Everything exploded, water went up on the sideline. I remember
coach Miller just lost his mind. Play sheet goes everywhere. Everybody’s hugging everybody. I think we actually had to call a timeout to make sure we had eleven people to go on the field to do victory formation.”
It was the team’s fourth state championship in five years and eighth in 10 seasons.
2012-2014 Semi-final Runs
With a rising superstar in Bentley, and an always dominant defense, Byrnes was a favorite to win the state title again in the coming years.
In 2012, the team went 10-1 in the regular season. But after rolling through their first two playoff opponents, they fell to eventual champ Gaffney in the upper state championship, 21-19, following a failed two-point conversion at the end of the game.
After four state championships, six upper state championship/state semi-final appearances, and a 78-11 record, Chris Miller announced he was leaving the program to become head coach at Spartanburg ahead of the 2013 season.
Bobby Bentley was elevated to head coach for his son’s senior season..
“Coaching your son is like no other emotion,” said Bentley. “It’s so neat, because you see the camaraderie between he and his friends, in one instance, and then you see the thing at home, how it develops.”
Byrnes had several returning, including the entire offensive line that had played with Bentley for three years.
The offense exploded in 2013, scoring nearly 57 points per game, while Bentley set several state records. At the conclusion of the 2013 season, Bentley had the most passing touchdowns in a single season, 71. He also set the single-game touchdown record with 10 and career touchdowns mark with 178. All of which stand to this day.
They appeared destined for another title.
They destroyed Wando and Lexington in openign playoff wins, setting up a meeting with Dutch Fork in the Big 16 state semi-finals. It was a contentious match, with Dutch Fork head coach Tom Knotts having accused Byrnes of routinely “dodging” them in the regular season. But here they battled for a state title appearance.
Unfortunate for the Rebels, the Silver Foxes got the best of them in the semifinal, winning, 31-21.
“Unfortunately all the success we had that year offensively and as a team just got wiped out by one really bad half,” said Bentley. “We couldn’t get off the field defensively and we couldn’t stay on the field offensively.”
It was the end of the Shuler Bentley era, and he went on to play at Old Dominion and Murray State.
His Dad also moved on once again. This time, joining the staff at Auburn and he’s remained in the collegiate ranks since, currently serving as tight ends coach at South Carolina.
But the Rebels were right back in the semi-final game again in 2014 under new head coach, and Byrnes alum, Brian Lane. They again faced Dutch Fork, this time on the road, and the Silver Foxes won again, setting up their third consecutive state championship appearance.
The Rebels made it to the upper state championship again in 2015 under Lane and then in 2018 under head coach Reggie Shaw. They have made the playoffs every year since 2000 except in 2016.
Nine state championship appearances in 10 years is astonishing in and of itself. But to win eight of them, and continue making deep runs in the postseason, sets Byrnes apart from the rest. Their dominance in the 2000s and early 2010s is unrivaled.
Not only did they develop some of the greatest athletes in state history, setting numerous records along the way, they also produced some of the greatest coaching staffs in South Carolina history as well.
Bobby Bentley, is tied for fifth all-time in the state with four championships. And Chris Miller, who won another at Spartanburg, is tied for third and is among the few with the distinction of winning titles at multiple schools.
With those two men at the helm, and star players such as Marcus Lattimore, Shuler Bentley, Willy Korn, Prince Miller, Trey Elder, Jomar Wright, Akia Booker and many more, Byrnes earned its national ranking year-in-and-year-out, making them an easy choice for the number one Upstate high school football program since 1990.
Pete’s Top 10:
Byrnes Extra: Prince Miller discusses the impact that strength and conditioning coach Mike Srock has had on developing players and building the program into a success.
Byrnes Football record since 1990 (Courtesy of SC Football History & MaxPreps)