By Justin Jarrett | LowcoSports@gmail.com
BEAUFORT – Mark Clifford has been coaching long enough to know adversity can send a high school football team one of two directions.
He saw enough Friday night to think his Beaufort High School squad will be better after suffering a tough 23-14 loss to Berkeley that ended the Eagles’ bid for an undefeated season.
“I know these kids well, and I think they’re going to come back next week, because a lot of them are hurting right now,” Clifford said. “I think they’ll come out Monday ready to work and not let that happen again.”
The Region 8-4A showdown started off well enough for the Eagles, whose defense came up with some big stops early before Jeffrey Smyth connected for two long passes to set up his 4-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead with 7:30 left in the second quarter.
Beaufort High lost star running back Kyleik Middleton to a first-quarter shoulder injury, though, and the Eagles had a tough time getting their ground game going against Berkeley’s stout defensive line.
Meanwhile, Berkeley’s Keshawn Wicks broke a 31-yard touchdown run to pull the Stags even at 7 at halftime and capped a long drive with a 2-yard TD run for a 14-7 lead with 7:56 left in the third quarter.
The Eagles answered when Smyth scored his second rushing touchdown of the night on a bootleg on fourth-and-goal from the 4, tying it at 14 with 3:04 left in the third, but the Stags quickly marched for a go-ahead score and forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff to get the ball back.
A defensive stop gave the Eagles a chance and they drove to the Berkeley 14, but the Stags sacked Smyth on fourth down and put together a long drive ending in a field goal to seal it.
Instead of the festive atmosphere typical after a Homecoming game, the Eagles’ postgame meeting was a somber affair. But they don’t have long to dwell on their first defeat – they host Cane Bay next week, needing a win to keep alive any hope of a region title or hosting a first-round playoff game.
“This shows us where we need to be,” Smyth said. “One loss, we have a chip on our shoulder, this can help us for the playoffs. We know where we need to go.”