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: 2000, 2009 State Runner-Up: 1994, 1999, 2010, 2015, 2017, 2019 Playoff Appearances: 30 Semifinal appearances: 12
Dorman’s success as a program spans decades, with various stretches of dominance throughout the 1990s and 2010s.
Once head coach Dave Gutshall took over the program in 1993, the Cavaliers became instant contenders, pulling-off a stunning upset of rival Spartanburg in that season’s Big 16 playoffs en route to the state semifinals. And just one season later, they reached the Big 16 state championship game. Since then they’ve returned to the title contest seven times, forging intense rivalries with some of the best teams in the state.
Under Gutshall’s tutelage, Dorman has had just one losing season, 1993, and the Cavs have 14 double-digit win seasons in his 28 campaigns at the helm. They’ve won fewer than seven games in a season just once, his first year when they finished 6-8 as a result of their semi-final run.
The Dave Gutshall Era (1993-Present)
Dave Gutshall came to Dorman in 1993 to replace Dale Evans, who took on the sole role of athletic director. And he came with significant credentials, having won four state titles in bordering North Carolina. Up to that point the Cavaliers hadn’t reached the state semifinals since 1980, and were consistent first-round exits.
Gutshall’s first year was an adjustment, and while the team finished the regular season 4-7, they went on an impressive run to the semis, beating Stratford and Spartanburg to begin the postseason. They fell to Gaffney in the semifinal round, but a wave of confidence was instilled.
“Even though it was a losing season, and the only one we’ve experienced, it was still a winning season,” said Gutshall.
In 1994, the Cavaliers took the next step, and in a big way. Dorman finished the regular season, 10-1, and dominated in the Big 16 playoffs. With a talented offense, headlined by quarterback Derek Burnette and receivers Mickey Gist and Desmond Geter. A 42-7 beatdown of Summerville in the first round set the tone on their quest for championship glory. The stingy Dorman defense shutout Rock Hill the following week in a 10-0 win, and toppled Sumter, 21-9 in the semifinals.
The Cavaliers made it to the Big 16 championship game, taking on a Spartanburg team they had beaten in the quarterfinals just one year prior but lost to in heartbreaking fashion during the regular season. It was the program’s first ever appearance in the title game.
The state championship battle of Spartanburg schools at Clemson’s Death Valley went to the Vikings, who defeated the Cavaliers, 24-17, but went down to the final play. After the Vikings took their seven point lead with 32 seconds remaining, Burnette marched his team deep into Spartanburg territory. On the final snap of the game, his throw to the endzone was batted away by Ken Land and the Vikings held on for their second-ever state title and second since 1991.
“That championship game ended with the clock running out on us,’ said Gutshall. “We were on the two-yard line, one touchdown down, just needed another three or four seconds.”
From ‘95 to ‘97, Dorman failed to reach double digit victories, and ended each season with a loss in the quarterfinal round. In 1998, the Cavaliers went 8-3 ahead of the playoffs, and made its deepest run since the 1994 season. Dorman reached the semifinals where they fell to eventual state champion Summerville, 14-9. But the following season they returned to Columbia for another shot at bringing home the hardware.
The Cavaliers went 8-3 in 1999 behind another potent offense. This time it was Curtis Nash under center, a dual-threat QB who ran for over 800 yards and 14 touchdowns leading up to the title game while running back Jahmaal Nelson rounded-out a lethal ground game. A three-game skid in the middle of the season ended up being only a speed bump along the way, as they went on to defeat Lancaster, Rock Hill, and then Spartanburg in the semifinals to punch Dorman’s ticket to the Big 16 state championship game.
In a close first half, points were scarce, but just before the break Stratford found pay dirt, taking a 10-3 lead into halftime. Both offenses opened up in the second half, with Stratford striking first, increasing their lead to 17-3. But Dorman continued to battle, and the Cavaliers scored 14 unanswered points. With just under four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Stratford broke the tie for a 24-17 lead.
Like 1994, the Cavaliers mounted a late rally, but after Nash connected with Brandon Turner, the receiver was stopped a yard shy of the endzone as time rand out, an eerily similar finish to their initial state title try.
It was a loss that Gutshall described as “heartbreaking.”
Another tough blow to a Dorman program that waited five years for another shot at a title. But it wasn’t long before they had a chance once again.
2000 State Championship Run
In 2000, the Cavaliers replaced a dual-threat quarterback in Nash with another capable weapon in Trey Rodgers. Running back Jack Ross provided consistency out of the backfield, and Turner was back as Rodgers’ top threat.
The team started off slowly defensively, but by mid-season were allowing roughly 10 points per game. And with a dynamic offense, Dorman cruised to a 10-1 regular season finish.
The Cavs dominated Sumter in the opening round of the Big 16 playoffs, winning 50-19. What followed was a shutout victory over prominent Northwestern, 36-0. In the semifinals, Dorman handled Rock Hill with a double-digit win, 36-20. They returned to the Big 16 title game for a second year in a row.
In the Big 16 state championship game, Dorman took on Lexington at WIlliams-Brice Stadium. Lexington, guided by former Furman I-AA national championship head coach Jimmy Satterfield, showcased a powerful running game featuring future USC running back Demetris Summers, amassing over five thousand yards on the ground that season. While they had multiple threats, none was more fierce than Summers. Summers is still considered one of the greatest high school football players in South Carolina high school football history, and finished his career as the state’s all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns.
Summers was the focal point of Dorman’s defense, but Lexington switched things up on the Cavaliers, catching Gutshall and the team off guard. The Wildcats, typically an I-formation team, came out in single back sets, something that was difficult for Dorman to adjust to.
Before they knew it, the Cavaliers had dug themselves a giant hole in the first half. Summers racked up over 100 first-half yards and two touchdowns as Lexington took a 21-0 lead into the break.
“I remember going into halftime and I’m furious,” said Gutshall. “I thought we played very poorly. And when I walked in you would’ve thought that the world had ended. I walked in and the whole team was sitting there and every one of them had their head down….And I decided not to say anything.”
The team sat in silence for nearly the entire break. In reflection, the Cavaliers had regained their
focus. But they had to overcome an even bigger deficit when the Wildcats made it 24-0 after scoring a field goal on the opening drive of the second half.
On their initial drive of the half, the Cavaliers made it all the way to the one-yard line, facing a fourth and goal. They elected to go for it, a reasonable move considering the lopsided score. Ross waltzed into the end zone off of a pitch, and Rodgers found tight end Dave Gutshall, Junior alone in the end zone on the two-point conversion.
On the ensuing kickoff, a Lexington fumble gave Dorman the ball at the Wildcats’ 19-yard-line.
Ross found pay dirt again on a 19-yard counter run to the right. And another play action pass from Rodgers to Gutshall on the conversion made it a 24-16 score. Dorman stayed patient as it chipped away at the Lexington lead. And the momentum was now all on their side.
Both teams traded punts for the rest of the third quarter, and on the first play of the fourth quarter, Dorman struck again.
Out of the shotgun, Rodgers faked a handoff to the motioning back, and used his speed to outrun the Wildcat defenders 57 yards to the house. They were two points away from the tie, and with consistent success on the conversions, they went to the air once again. This time it was a wide receiver pass, similar to the ‘Philly Special’ executed by the Eagles in Super Bowl 52.
Turner took the handoff moving to his right and threw back across his body to the left where Rodgers had peeled out. The lofted pass was barely tipped by the Lexington defender in the end zone, but Rodgers corralled the tipped pass in the back of the end zone for the tie. That made it 24-24. It was anybody’s ball game.
Dorman’s defense continued to hang tough, shutting down the run and forcing the Wildcats into uncomfortable passing situations. After another forced punt, the Cavaliers had the ball in the final minute.
They drove down the field, and when they made it inside the 20-yard-line, a game-winning field goal appeared to be within reach. As the clock ticked under 15 seconds, they had time for one more play before using their final timeout. They didn’t need it.
Rodgers took the direct snap and ran right up the middle, bouncing right to avoid a tackle, and took it 16 yards for what was the game-winning touchdown.
“We were trying to get the ball to the middle of the field so we can kick a field goal,” said Gutshall. “And Trey just broke it.”
Dorman scored 31 unanswered points in the second half to defeat Lexington, 31-24. After two
losses in the title game, Dorman had achieved the ultimate goal.
“It took the monkey off our back,” said Gutshall.
In the subsequent years following the 2000 state championship win, Dorman saw a dip in overall production compared to its successful years between 1998 and 2000. In 2001, the Cavaliers reached the Big 16 semi-finals, ending with a 12-2 record, but the next several years were full of early postseason exits.
Dorman lost in the first or second round of the postseason four times over the next five years. In 2005, they reached the semis once again, but fell to Gaffney, finishing 9-5.
In 2008, they returned to the state semi-final, but lost to powerhouse Byrnes, 31-14. They did, however, beat the Rebels in the regular season that year and saw the potential they had. A group with promising talent had gained experience, setting the stage for a successful 2009 campaign.
2009 State Championship Run
After registering 13 wins the year before, the 2009 Cavaliers were confident they had the makings of a championship-caliber team.
With Johnny Foster at quarterback, A.J. Booker at running back, and quality receivers in Charone Peake and Rob Greene, the Cavs quarterback the previous season, Dorman had a prolific offensive unit.
The Cavaliers recorded 10 wins in the regular season, with their one loss coming to Byrnes. That ended up fueling the squad in its quest for a championship.
The road to the title game was not an easy one for the Cavs by any stretch. Close game after close game threatened to cut their journey short. But they kept on finding a way to win.
They topped Clover in the opening round by three points, and then shut out Irmo and Gaffney by a combined score of 24-0. The defense had come through in crunch time, and with the win over the Indians, Dorman was back in Columbia. And they were given their shot at revenge against the two-time defending champion, Byrnes Rebels.
“It was a hunger going into that state championship game that ‘we’re not going to [lose to Byrnes] again,’” said center Jake Morris.
Ahead of the title game, Morris, along with fellow team captain Greene, had seen an article in
the newspaper that criticized the team’s lack of production on offense.
“We actually printed out the article and highlighted some stuff and laid it on every offensive starter’s locker coming into the week,” said Greene.
“It was a hunger going into that state championship game that ‘we’re not going to [lose to Byrnes] again,’” added Morris.
The motivation was there. And having lost to Byrnes in the regular season, Dorman shifted its focus to the offensive line and ground game.
“We knew we had to establish the run,” said Gutshall.
To get the most out of that approach, Gutshall made a risky decision.
“We took our all-region center, Jake Morris, and put him at tight end knowing that could backfire,” said Gutshall. “We felt like he was our best blocker and wanted to run behind him.”
“I had faith in him,” said Morris. “I had been working that all year. I was comfortable, but I was really nervous.”
The plan paid off, and the team saw the fruits of that decision taking form early in the game. The Cavaliers were first on the board after Booker found the end zone in the first quarter to make it 7-0 Dorman.
But the points didn’t come that easily for the remainder of the game, as both defenses stunted momentum. Dorman and Byrnes traded touchdowns in the second quarter. The Rebels’ superstar running back, Marcus Lattimore, was the first Byrnes player to reach the end zone. And Dorman’s Foster connected with Peake on a 37-yard touchdown pass to maintain the Cavs lead.
The game remained neck-and-neck throughout the third quarter, and with under nine minutes left in the game, Byrnes took its first lead of the game.
Trailing 14-10, with 8:55 to go, Lattimore crossed the goal line for the second time, propelling the Rebels to a 17-14 lead. But on the very next drive, Dorman put together a spectacular drive in response.
The Cavs drove 80 yards down field, highlighted by a 41-yard pass from Foster to Peake.
“I don’t think he’s ever thrown a ball that good in his life,” said Morris. “It was just a feeling on our sideline that it’s not over.”
Booker capped off the drive with a short touchdown run to put Dorman back in front, 21-17.
“It was one of the best drives I’ve ever been a part of in football,” said Greene.
On the next possession, with the Rebels driving, John Parker made the defensive play of the game, intercepting Chas Dodd’s pass and taking it the distance to make it 28-17. But the Cavs knew the game was still far from over.
The Rebels drove back down the field, and were on the cusp of scoring and cutting into the Dorman lead.
Dodd fired a pass to the end zone in hopes of making it a three-point game, but defensive back and future NFL receiver, Adam Humphries, came down with the clinching interception.
With Humphries’ clutch play, Parker’s pick-six, Kendrick Smith’s 22 tackles, and the defense’s handling of Lattimore, Dorman earned every bit of the championship win.
“That was the most unbelievable feeling in the world,” said Morris. “I played college football, had the chance to play for some championships in college football, and nothing compares to it.”
“It was an unbelievable game plan, and a lot of guys made some big plays, and we were able to pull it off,” said Greene.
“It was a celebration all the way home,” Gutshall remembered. “It was a special win.”
The victory was so impactful, the entire game is etched their memory.
“I still remember every play,” said Morris. “This past football season we all had a 2009 reunion down here on the field. And I think we all sat around and talked about every play of that game. You don’t forget it.”
Both Greene and Morris are now coaching football, inspired by their years at Dorman under Gutshall. Morris is an assistant alongside his former head coach at Dorman, and Greene is a defensive backs coach at Wofford.
The eight-year title drought for Dorman had been snapped, and while the team has made it back several times since, it is their last championship win.
2010s (Four State Runner-Up Finishes)
Dorman made it back to Columbia in 2010, looking for a second-straight state title. And they took on rival Byrnes yet again. This time, though, the Rebels got the best of the Cavaliers, winning 34-14.
What followed were three mediocre years, going 7-6, 8-4, and 7-6 from 2011-2013.
Dorman logged 10 wins in 2014, ending with a trip to the quarterfinals. In 2015, they made their return to the championship.
The Cavaliers went 8-3 in the regular season, and overcame a difficult postseason schedule, winning every game on the road. They took on Fort Dorchester in the 2015 Big 16 state championship game.
The Patriots defeated the Cavs, 59-31. And although it was a tough loss to sustain, there were positive takeaways from what the ‘15 team had accomplished.
“When you don’t play good in the last game it sort of has a burning memory,” said Gutshall. “But it’s one of those things that I was proud of that football team, because we weren’t supposed to be there at all.”
Dorman moved up to 5A when the classification was added by the South Carolina High School League in 2016, and they were back competing for a title one year later. A 9-2 Dorman squad ran through the postseason competition, beating Woodmont, Mauldin and Greenwood by a combined 127-40. They bested Gaffney in the upper state final, 14-10, to advance to the state championship game once again.
Dorman was matched-up with defending champion Dutch Fork in the 2017 5A state championship game. A pairing many considered to be about as evenly matched as a title game could get.
Dorman was first on the board when Tylen Fowler scooped up a high snap and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown. But the Silver Foxes scored 14 unanswered points to take a 14-7 lead into the break.
The Cavs tied it up to start the third quarter when Matthew Powell hit Zack Hillstock for a 17-yard touchdown. The teams traded scores into the fourth quarter, with Dutch Fork taking a 28-21 lead with roughly eight minutes left in regulation.
The state champion was decided in the final seconds.
Dorman put together a six-play, 42-yard drive that ended with a Ben Batson to Jacoby Pinckney touchdown on fourth down with 19 seconds left on the clock. The Cavs were an extra point away from tying the game and likely sending it into overtime. But Gutshall was determined to win it in regulation, and made the call to go for two.
“The number one reason was we had the momentum and thought we had the play,” said Gutshall.
The play was designed for tight end John Gelotte to initially chip the defensive end and release inside for a wide open touchdown. The play appeared to be working but Dutch Fork linebacker Hugh Ryan closed quickly and tackled Gelotte a yard shy of the goal line, sealing the 28-27 win for the Silver Foxes. Still, Gutshall has no regrets.
“If I had to do it over I would do it the same,” said Gutshall.
This past season, Dorman and Dutch Fork met again in Columbia for the 5A state championship. The Cavaliers brought a 14-0 record into the contest, while the Silver Foxes were competing for their fourth title in a row.
It was once again a battle that went down to the wire, only this time it required more than regulation.
In overtime, Dorman failed to reach the end on its first possession after losing six yards on the opening play.
“That was probably the play of the game for Dutch Fork,” said Gutshall.
They settled for an Omar Khan field goal to go up 31-28.
But two plays later, Dutch Fork quarterback Ty Olenchuck connected with Jalin Hyatt on an end zone fade for the walk-off winner.
“They just executed the perfect play,” said Gutshall.
It was another very tough loss for the Cavs and their consistent appearances in the title game didn’t do much to soften the blow.
Dorman enters 2020 with a great shot to make it back, though, as Gutshall enters his 28th season at the helm.
“My only goal in football has been to get a first down,” said Gutshall. “I have fun, I love what I do. When I feel that I’m not on the top of my game I’m going home.”
For now, there’s clearly still some winning left in the tank. Hear what Gutshall and his former players had to say about his coaching legacy:
The Dorman Cavaliers may have won only two state championships since 1990, but their eight appearances in the championship game ties them for second-most among Pete’s Top 10.
Dorman’s consistency through three decades alone qualifies them as a top program but while
their two title game wins were impressive, four others lost in heartbreaking fashion kept them from placing higher. An indication of the very fine line to cross to move above their top five ranking on this list.
Pete’s Top 10:
Dorman Football record by year (Courtesy of SC Football History & MaxPreps