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: 1999, 2000, 2006, 2012
State Runner-Up: 2010, 2011
Playoff Appearances: 27
The Greenwood Eagles reached the highest level of success in each decade over the course of the last thirty years. Six state championship game appearances, four state titles, and nine trips to the upper state final rounded out an impressive resume by the Eagles.
With Gaffney, they’re the only other area school to win a state title in each of the past three decades.
Legendary head coach Shell Dula took over a once proud program that had struggled in recent seasons.
Dula came to Greenwood having won state titles at Ninety Six and Union. So with Dula’s proven track record, optimism was high as the Eagles aimed to capture their first state title since 1976.
“We put together as fine a coaching staff as you’ll ever meet,” said Dula. “It’s always good to have somebody you can bounce things off of.”
Shell Dula Era (1997-2008)
Year one under Dula was a rebuilding one for the Eagles, and they managed just two wins for the third consecutive season. But coach Dula saw the fruits of a culture he was looking to create.
“We’ve always believed in high character, hard work, and they bought into it,” said Dula. “And it didn’t show with the wins and losses, but yet it did set the parameters for what that program was going to be.”
The following year, in 1998, the program began to turn around.
Greenwood went 9-2 during the regular season, and made its deepest playoff run since 1985, making it all the way to the 4A Division II state semi-final, where the Eagles were shutout by Marlboro County, 21-0. Greenwood was on the cusp of something big.
“We felt like to go to the state championship, we’re not that far,” said Gene Cathcart, the team’s offensive coordinator at the time. “It started to get things rolling…and coach Dula’s always going to have a real good culture around his program.”
1999 State Title Run
The Eagles reached nine regular season wins again in 1999, determined to go even further than the year before.
Greenwood opened up postseason play against Spring Valley, advancing with a 35-25 victory. They followed that up with a thrashing of Fort Dorchester in the second round, 42-7.
In their return to the state semi-finals, the Eagles took on Wilson High of Florence. Trailing with just over a minute-and-a-half to play in the fourth quarter, Dula elected to punt. He used his two remaining timeouts and also benefitted from an incomplete pass on third down to get the ball back. Led by senior quarterback Mark Logan (the Mr. Football winner in South Carolina that season), the Eagles marched to the winning score with just under 10 seconds to go when Logan hit receiver D.J. Jeffery over the middle for a 27-23 victory, punching their ticket to the 4A Division II State Championship.
“We got to where we were pretty tough to defend in all phases of the game,” said Cathcart.
Greenwood took on Aiken in the title game at Williams-Brice Stadium in early December. Led by Logan, and a star-studded cast of offensive weapons in receivers Mario Brown and Jeffery, and running back Derrick Young. Logan had thrown for nearly 2,000 yards and 26 touchdowns, adding 15 rushing scores leading up to the big game.
“Mark that year, he was kind of the rock,” said Cathcart. “He was the whole deal.”
Logan’s counterpart was Aiken’s dual-threat quarterback, Corey Ready, who guided the Green Hornets’ Wing-T offense. It was a defensive battle to start the game as neither team threatened in the opening quarter. And it was scoreless entering the second quarter.
But Greenwood then found its rhythm.
On the opening drive of the second period, Logan led the Eagles down the field and capped it off with a short touchdown run to put them in front, 7-0.
A defense led by linebackers Ricky Grant and Ricardo Hurley continued to smother the Green Hornets attack, Greenwood capitalized once again just before the break. WIth under one minute remaining, Logan found paydirt once again, this time on a quarterback sneak at the goal line, to put Greenwood ahead 14-0 at halftime.
The Eagles didn’t skip a beat to start the second half. On the opening possession, the Greenwood defense swarmed the backfield, pressuring Ready into making an errant throw which was intercepted by D’von Hill and returned for a touchdown. Greenwood was firmly in the driver’s seat as they extended their lead to 21-0.
While the defense continued to dominate the Wing-T offense, the Eagle’s offense continued to keep their foot on the gas pedal. Late in the third quarter, Logan found a wide open Jeffery on a play action pass that went 43 yards for another score. And then in the middle of the fourth quarter, Logan delivered the exclamation point with his third rushing score of the day, providing the final points in a 35-0 rout.
The win ended a 23-year championship drought for the program, and gave coach Dula his fourth state title at his third school.
“That ‘99 team was a team that persevered, that overcame difficulties, and the word they wanted on their ring was ‘commitment,’ because they were totally committed,” said Dula. “So we go from 2-9 to 11-3 to 13-2, and we’ve got a lot of them back.”
The next year’s class continued to build on that foundation.
2000 State Title Run
Greenwood finished the 2000 season 10-1 behind another dynamic offense. They had to replace key losses, especially with the graduation of Logan and their key receivers.
Converted defensive back Sam Williams took over at quarterback and the offense included an emerging receiver in Hill and tight end Renaldo Gray. Hill paced the receiving corps with 52 catches for 876 yards and 14 touchdowns in his junior season. Williams passed for over 1,700 yards, tossed 25 touchdowns, and added over 300 yards on the ground and 4 rushing scores.
Offensive coordinator Gene Cathcart got the most out of his new quarterback.
“Gene’s is probably the best offensive minds I’ve been around, and we were able to utilize Sam’s strengths,” said Dula.
The road to the finals in 2000 came a bit easier for the Eagles. Greenwood began with a 46-13 win over Crestwood in the opening round, and followed it up with a 38-14 win over James Island in round two.
In the state semi-finals, the Eagles torched Richland Northeast, 40-7, advancing to the program’s second-straight state championship game.
In the 2000 Class 4A Division II state championship game, Greenwood hosted a familiar opponent in Aiken. The Green Hornets entered with several returning players including their quarterback, Ready. And while the Eagles were fresh off of a shutout win the year before, Aiken took Greenwood down to the wire the second time around.
Both teams traded turnovers in the opening quarter, but Greenwood broke through with ten second remaining in the first quarter as Williams found Young for a 29-yard touchdown to put the Eagles in front, 7-0.
The scoring didn’t stop there.
In the second, Greenwood dusted off one of its trick plays. Gray, a sophomore tight end who would become the starting quarterback the following season, lined up as a receiver and executed the wide receiver pass to perfection finding Williams deep down the left side for a long score that extended the Eagles lead to 14-0.
“They decided to man [D’von Hill] up, and so Sam just leaked out the back door and there was nobody there,” said Cathcart. “The whole question was whether Renaldo could throw it that far….and I said Renaldo could throw from Carolina to Clemson…We worked it all week, classic story, never hit it not one time…It ended up being a huge play in that game.”
And after Williams connected with Cliff Crawford for another touchdown late in the second, Greenwood took a 21-0 lead into the half. It seemed to be deja’vu all over again for the Hornets.
But the narrative shifted at the start of the third quarter. Aiken scored 14 unanswered points, and suddenly they had the momentum.
Then with six minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Green Hornets scored again. But a missed extra point proved to be crucial in such a close contest and the Eagles maintained the lead at 21-20.
Greenwood’s defense tightened up down the stretch, and when it mattered most, they got the stop they needed. The Eagles secured another championship, edging Aiken by the 21-20 final.
“I just felt like our kids during that run, especially those back to back state championships, never felt like they were going to lose,” Cathcart said.
The back-to-back state championships cemented high expectations for the program. But it also provided a reminder of just how difficult it is to make it back to the final game of the season. In 2001 the Eagles were ousted in the first round against Dutch Fork, despite going 9-2 in the regular season.
In 2002 they made another run at a state championship, but fell just shy of the goal as they lost to Conway in the semifinals.
The next three years were promising for the Eagles, winning nine, 10, and eight games, respectively. But the team lost in the quarterfinals in 2003 and 2004. And in 2005, it was a first round exit. That was also the final season of Armanti Edwards (who later led Appalachian State to its monumental upset of Michigan) starting at quarterback.
One year later, they made their way back.
2006 State Title Run
Greenwood finished the 2006 regular season at 9-2 with perhaps a less talented team than in years past, but a shut-down defense that carried the group. On offense the team was led by versatile quarterback Jay Spearman, who later became a South Carolina Gamecock. On defense, two future NFL starters led the charge. Defensive backs D.J. Swearinger and Josh Norman highlighted a dominant group that made its presence known throughout the postseason.
“We were very, very good defensively,” said Dula. “We didn’t hardly ever give up more than 14 points in a game.”
The Eagles dominated in the first round of the playoffs, defeating Laurens 31-3. Ridge View was next in the quarterfinal matchup, which Greenwood won, 34-19. And in the upper state final, the Eagles defense came through once again, holding Westside to just seven points in a 14-7 victory, which avenged a regular season loss and propelled them back to the state title game.
Greenwood took on Conway in the 4A Division II state championship game in Columbia.
As expected, it was a defensive battle throughout. But the Eagles got on the board first with a touchdown on the opening possession. It was the only score of the first half.
They added to their lead in the third quarter when Spearman connected with Chris Floyd, putting Greenwood up, 14-0.
Conway eventually got on the board, but it was too little, too late. The Eagles held the Tigers to just eight yards rushing en route to their third title since 1999.
“It was a group that really came together,” said Dula. “They really loved each other.”
With the victory, head coach Shell Dula moved into third place in South Carolina coaching history with six total state championships.
He coached two more seasons with the Eagles, going 11-2 and 7-5, but never got past the quarterfinals again. Dula retired after 32 years of coaching in which he recorded 254 wins, 124 losses, and one tie. He holds the distinction as one of just three head coaches in Palmetto State history to win a state title at three different schools.
A legendary era came to end, paving way for Cathcart to step in and take over the program.
Gene Cathcart Era (2009-2013)
Gene Cathcart returned to Greenwood to become the Eagles’ head coach in 2009, inheriting a program that produced three state titles within the past decade. And he had big shoes to fill in the shadow of Shell Dula. But after one season with the Eagles, Cathcart would quash any doubts anyone may have had when he took over. And it amounted to an eventual dominant three-year run.
“When you take the Greenwood job, you know the sideline you’re walking,” said Cathcart. “It’s not lost on you.”
2010 / 2011 State Runner-Ups
After a 9-4 season in 2009, which included a loss in the 4A Division II quarterfinals, the Eagles returned to the state title game after a three-year drought.
The Eagles finished the 2010 regular season 10-1 and rolled through the competition on the way back to Williams-Brice Stadium. They beat Laurens by 20 in the opening round, and South Florence by 28 the following week. In their return to the semis, Greenwood beat North Augusta, 34-21, to punch their ticket to state.
But the Eagles ran into a dominant Northwestern team in the state championship. The Trojans lit up the scoreboard to the tune of 42 points, beating Greenwood, 42-10 for the program’s first loss in a state title game.
“The first one, I felt like we really overachieved,” said Cathcart. “We knew how talented that Northwestern team was.”
But the resilient Eagles didn’t fold under the disappointment. Instead they bounced back in 2011.
The team finished 10-1 again, and without skipping a beat, they put together a playoff run reminiscent of their 2010 campaign. Greenwood took White Knoll to task in the first round, winning 31-6. In the quarterfinals, they shut-out Easley, 17-0. Then in the semi-finals, they beat Ashley Ridge convincingly, 36-21.
This time the Eagles faced Goose Creek in the 2011 state championship game. But in the team’s return to the finals, they were dealt another blow. The Gators topped the Eagles, 37-21. Another incredible season had ended in disappointment. Their toughness as a program was tested even more having faced crushing defeats in back-to-back seasons. Cathcart and the Eagles, though, went right back to work.
2012 State Title Run
In 2012, the Eagles had tunnel vision. It was a state championship win or bust. Along with it came a lot of pressure, but also an enhanced focus.
The 2012 squad appeared to be a team of destiny, although on paper they appeared to be outmatched throughout the season.
“It was the least talented of the three teams,” said Cathcart.
But talent is only one part of the equation.
They finished the regular season undefeated, a perfect 11-0. The postseason, however, was a much steeper hill to climb. And the Eagles showed their moxxy along the way.
They cruised through the opening round, beating Fort Mill, 42-7. But their perseverance was on full display in the quarters and semis. They went toe to toe with North Augusta in the quarterfinals, prevailing 34-32. The next week, they snuck by South Pointe, winning 35-30. That win against South Pointe was credited to a pre-game speech by Cathcart, where the theme was told “don’t eat the carrots.” You can hear the full story below:
It may not have been as dominant of a run as they were accustomed to, but there was no doubt the Eagles were battle tested ahead of the championship.
In the Class 4A Division II state championship game, the Eagles faced a prolific offense in a rematch with Northwestern.
The Trojans were led by future NFL quarterback, Mason Rudolph, and a big perimeter weapon in receiver Rontavius McClure. Rudolph compiled 3,700 passing yards and 49 total touchdowns that season. And McClure, at 6-foot-6, brought in 80 catches for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. It was going to take everything Greenwood had to stall the Trojan offense.
“The one thing our goal was going into that game was we wanted Mason to be well hydrated,” said Cathcart. “We wanted him to be over there drinking Gatorade a lot. So I remember we had a nine-play drive, we had a 12-minute drive.”
The Eagles had some standouts of their own, especially on defense. Linebackers Davon Durant, and A.K Reader combined for nine sacks and 164 tackles that season. On offense they were led by quarterback Evin Sims and running back Octavius Morgan.
The Eagles opened up the scoring in the first quarter after Matt McManis nailed a 43-yard field goal. In the second quarter, after two touchdowns, the Eagles led 17-3. But Northwestern responded with a late second half touchdown to make it 17-10 Greenwood at the break.
There was no shortage of drama in the second half.
On the opening drive of the third quarter, the Trojans pulled within one after a touchdown and a missed extra point. They were in for a wild ride to the finish.
Both teams exchanged scores in the fourth quarter, including a masterful drive by Rudolph and the Northwestern offense in the final minutes of the half. The Trojans executed a two-point conversion with just over one minute left in regulation, tying the game at 24-24, and subsequently sending the 2012 title game to overtime.
On their first possession of overtime, Cathcart made a gutsy call to go for the touchdown on fourth down. Greenwood wasn’t going to play scared. And the call paid off. The Eagles turned to Morgan, who crossed the goal line on a two-yard score putting them in front, 31-24.
The defense put significant pressure on Rudolph, and held Northwestern out of the endzone to secure the state title. It was a ‘monkey off the back’ moment for the Eagles and Cathcart. They were back on top for the first time since 2006 and completed the program’s only 15-0 season.
“The crazy thing about that team that no one really realizes is they ended up having a 3.4 GPA,” said Cathcart. “…we had just some great young men who were also really good students, survived their adversity, weren’t afraid to go back to that third time, and I’m just really proud.”
Cathcart left the program in 2014 to coach at Seneca High School, where he could be closer to family. North Augusta’s Dan Pippin was hired to take over the Eagles. That season, Greenwood
finished the regular season 7-4, and made a run to the state semifinals where they fell to York. In 2015, they won four games, and failed to make the playoffs. They’ve made the playoffs every year since, but only reached the third round once, in the 2017 5A Upper State playoffs.
Pippin retired after the 2019 season, and the district announced the hiring of Laurens coach and former Greenwood player and assistant coach, Chris Liner, in early 2020.
The Eagles had pockets of success in every decade over the last 30 years. After putting together back-to-back state championship wins, the program won 45 games over the next five seasons but did not return to the title game in that time. They made it back in 2006. And then went on a three-year run of dominance that included three state title game appearances, and one ring. Not only did the Eagles sustain success over a long period of time, they did so under different coaching eras. Since 1990, Greenwood has made the postseason 27 times, and has appeared in the semifinals nine times. All of their achievements earns the Eagles the number nine slot in Pete’s Top 10.
Pete’s Top 10:
Greenwood Football record since 1990 (Courtesy of: SC Football History & MaxPreps)