Imagine Lowcountry football separated into tiers.
Fort Dorchester, undefeated with a 35-point average margin of victory, would inarguably be perched alone on the top tier. Winless or one-win schools, of which there are a few in our area, would fill out the bottom fourth tier.
There should then be two tiers in between, something of an average third tier positioned below a second tier of above-average teams — not quite Fort Dorchester but still upper echelon potential region contenders in their own right.
Wando has made a strong case through its first four games of the season that it belongs in that second, above-average tier. The Warriors at 3-1 are off to their best start since 2014 and seem to be priming to make a run at the Region 7-AAAAA title.
“I think we’re right where we expected to be,” Wando head coach Jimmy Noonan said late Friday night on the bus ride home from Ashley Ridge. “Our schedule thus far has prepared us well for what’s ahead.”
Wando opened the season with a convincing 32-20 home win over 2018 AAAAA Lower State runner-up Summerville. You have to start somewhere and where better than at home against a longtime rival in a game that really wasn’t as close as the final score. Summerville, 3-2 with wins over Woodland, Stratford and Cane Bay, has a solid second-tier resume itself.
Wando would almost certainly be 4-1, had its Week 2 game against winless bottom-tier Stall not been canceled due to the effects of Hurricane Dorian. Instead, Wando’s second showing was a lopsided 41-point loss to Fort Dorchester. This should be considered in context though. Few stand a legitimate chance this season against the Patriots, who have dominated everyone in their path thus far and are expected to continue to do so throughout the rest of the regular season. Fort Dorchester’s vaunted defense allowed just 16 points through its first four games, 10 of those points coming from the Warriors.
Wando recovered nicely with a road rally at West Ashley. The Warriors’ 30-17 win against their Charleston County rival was important in distinguishing themselves a tier or two above the Wildcats and other comparable teams. West Ashley, at 1-4 and on a three-game slide, likely belongs in the fourth tier right now.
Wando followed with a 34-33 overtime win at Ashley Ridge, further distancing itself from the sometimes blurred line that seperates the second and third tier. Beating a Division I bound quarterback, on the road, in overtime is even sweeter when considering the Swamp Foxes have kept the ball from last year’s win at Wando in their trophy case. Ashley Ridge at 2-3 has the feel of a third-tier team early, although its 21-20 season-opening win over Goose Creek is a second-tier win.
“We’re well tested,” Noonan said. “Not many teams have already faced the kind of situations we have and answered the call the way this team has.”
Wando entered the preseason with an open competition for the starting quarterback spot. Braden Pritchard was the wild card, a left-handed junior yet to play a snap of Warrior football since transferring from West Forsyth (N.C.) in January. Pritchard won the job, though, and has performed admirably, throwing for 921 yards with nine touchdowns. Wando threw for just 11 all of last season.
Wando was relatively balanced last season, finishing with 47 more rushing attempts than passing. The Warriors this season are calling two pass plays for every one running play. Five different players have at least eight catches, six have caught a touchdown. Maken Glover and Dillon McCarthy have combined for more than 500 yards and four touchdowns. Glover is averaging 15 yards per reception and McCarthy 14.
A lot of that has to do with Pritchard. He’s proven to be a good game manager who can handle the passing load, though the junior is admittedly not perfect. The uptick in pass attempts has opened more opportunity for turnovers. Pritchard has thrown six interceptions this season. Wando threw just seven last season. Some of his picks have been off tipped passes, others while trying to sneak into tight windows — things the Warriors coaching staff doesn’t love but can live with if the good continues to outweigh the bad as it has.
“Throughout the game, coaches just tell me to stay calm,” Pritchard said. “I try my best to stay calm and keep the plays going. If I make a few mistakes, I just have to recover.”
Having Jaden Singleton healthy this season has been a huge addition to the Warriors offense. The senior running back has long been touted for his potential, potential he hasn’t been able to fulfill during a career littered with season-ending injuries to both knees.
Singleton appears finally healthy and has made the most of his touches, averaging 5.4 yard per carry and looking better every week. He ran for nearly 100 yards and a touchdown against Summerville. He scored again at West Ashley. He caught a touchdown and ran in another in regulation against Ashley Ridge before putting the Warriors ahead with a standout individual effort on a touchdown run in overtime.
“I’ve been working so hard to get my knees right,” Singleton said. “I’m just glad I can finally help my team. It feels amazing.”
Wando had much to replace on defense this offseason, namely middle linebacker and Iron Warrior captain Justin Pelic, now a freshman at Florida. Junior linebacker Colby McQueen has filled in nicely, already logging 33.5 tackles, 22 of them solo efforts and two for a loss, with two sacks and an interception.
Wando has forced seven turnovers through four games this season. Hard-hitting senior safety Will Pickren captains the secondary. Will Perritt next to him has five pass breakups, an interception, two fumble recoveries and a sack. Excluding the Fort Dorchester debacle, the Warriors are allowing just 123 passing yards and 164 rushing through the other three games. In those three wins combined, the Warriors have only surrendered 30 points in the first half.
Berkeley will be Wando’s toughest test outside of Fort Dorchester. The defending region champion Stags are among the best of the second tier at 3-1, losing only to the Patriots. Berkeley’s offense is explosive, averaging 34 points per game even without its starting quarterback through its first three.
It's been 15 years since Wando beat Berkeley. Friday’s game will weigh heavily in the Region 7-AAAAA title race, although Goose Creek, Stratford and Cane Bay are all viable contenders as well. A Warriors win over the Stags, though, would certainly solidify its position as one of the top teams in the Lowcountry’s upper tier.
Fort Dorchester (5-0)
First Baptist (4-1)
Goose Creek (2-2)
Cane Bay (3-2)
Bishop England (2-2)
Ashley Ridge (2-3)
James Island (2-2)
North Charleston (2-2)
St. John's (1-4)
Philip Simmons (1-4)
West Ashley (1-4)
Academic Magnet (1-2)