Saluda Tigers searching for 1st state title since 2019

Published: Nov. 23, 2022 at 12:06 AM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - If a high school football team is practicing this week, that means their state championship hopes are still alive.

Six of our local teams are still in business, and we drove to Saluda to speak with the Tigers ahead of their biggest game of the season.

By taking down Strom Thurmond 28 to nothing on the road, the Saluda Tigers punched their ticket to the Class 2A Upper State championship game.

Knowing they’re only one more win away from state, they are doing everything they can to capitalize.

Head Coach Stewart Young said, “I don’t even know if I’ll be in this position again in my career. You guys, you seniors will not be in this position again in your career. You underclassmen, you may never be in this position again. So, we’ve got to have that type of urgency.”

Samuel Espinoza added, “it’s been amazing. I’ve definitely cherished every moment, every practice, every time I stretch, because you never know when it could be your last one.”

Saluda started out the season on fire... 6-0. But then they suffered back-to-back heartbreaking losses to Strom Thurmond and Silver Bluff. The Tigers held a team meeting to try to right the ship. So far, it looks like those changes have worked.

Young said, “had we won those two games, that would’ve masked some of our issues, and then by the time we get to the playoffs and those issues arise, it would be took like and wouldn’t have time to make the adjustments.”

This Friday, Saluda will have their hands full with an old rival, the Abbeville Panthers.

Since 2013, the Tigers and the Panthers have met in the playoffs six times, including last year when Abbeville eliminated Saluda in the second round.

Tyleke Mathis said, “ever since I came into high school, everybody’s been telling me like, ‘oh Abbeville, they always win the state championship. We hate them.’ So every since then, I’ve been in my head like, oh man, I’ve got to get on my p’s and q’s.”

The last time Saluda won the state title was back in 2019, and some of those players are seniors looking for a final shot.

Young said, “they we there. They remember what it was like and how it felt. So I think that helps.”

Espinoza added, “I see leadership, and if not more leaders than we had in 2019. The same mindset and we just want the ring, and we just keep fighting for it, and we don’t stop.”