Daniel Harrington has done it all for Hilton Head Christian Academy this season, starring on both sides of the ball — and even singing the national anthem.
Harrington showed his versatility again Friday night, throwing three touchdown passes and running for another to lead the Eagles to a 31-20 win over visiting John Paul II to clinch the SCISA Region 2-2A championship.
The high stakes, combined with the fact it was the last regular-season home game for HHCA’s 11 seniors, made for a nervous start for the Eagles, especially Harrington, who took the mic to sing the Star-Spangled Banner before kickoff.
“Before the game, that was probably the biggest thing on my mind,” Harrington said. “Once that was out of the way, I felt a lot better. I was ready to go.”
Yet it was the Golden Warriors who came out hot, driving down the field with ease on the opening series and taking a 7-0 lead on Freddie Aiken’s 3-yard plunge. The Eagles defense adjusted, though, and bottled up JPII’s talented running backs for the rest of the night. Melik Frost finished with 76 yards on 13 carries and Zach Doe managed only 44 yards on 13 attempts.
“They’re very physical, and they’ve got big running backs,” HHCA coach Ron Peduzzi said. “Our guys aren’t real big, but they’ve got big hearts, and they just kept coming after them.”
After a slow start on offense, the Eagles were kicked into gear when Lukas O’Grady booted a 41-yard field goal that easily covered the distance, cutting the deficit to 7-3. Harrington then broke a 20-yard run to set up his own 5-yard TD run for a 10-7 halftime lead.
Harrington, pressed into playing quarterback by teammate Hayden Shinn’s season-ending elbow injury in last week’s win over Colleton Prep, struggled to get the passing game going in the first half, but the Eagles started to click after the break. He threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to JP Peduzzi on the opening series of the second half to make it 17-7, but JPII answered with a 10-play drive capped by quarterback Sam Summa’s 3-yard TD run to pull within 17-14.
A long kickoff return set up the Eagles with a short field, though, and Harrington threw a 24-yard strike to Jace Blackshear and a 31-yard touchdown pass to Floyd Hargrove to provide a quick answer with 1:17 left in the third quarter.
The Eagles blocked a field goal attempt to maintain the 10-point lead, but a quick stop followed by a good punt return and an HHCA penalty set up Summa’s 15-yard swing pass to Doe for a TD. HHCA blocked the extra-point to keep it a 24-20 margin with 5:04 left, putting the ball back in Harrington’s hands.
“I just knew we had to do our job and put up another one,” Harrington said.
He scrambled for a huge first down on third-and-8, then sent Peduzzi on a go route up the right sideline, where Peduzzi went up to haul in a pass, broke a tackle, and walked in for a 53-yard touchdown to seal it.
Harrington finished 12-of-18 for 221 yards and three TDs and rushed 19 times for 72 yards and a score — all after having only two days of practice this week to prepare for returning to the role he held for the Eagles last season.
“I thought last year he was one of the best quarterbacks in the area,” JPII coach Kevin Wald said. “He’s a gamer. We got him some, but he made a few more plays than we did. That’s what championship football is all about. You leave it all on the line, and we came up a little short.”
The loss snapped a five-game winning streak for JPII (5-3, 3-1), which concludes the regular season at home against non-region opponent Colleton Prep next week before opening the playoffs at home.
The Eagles (6-2, 3-0) have won six straight and have one more test — a trip to rival Hilton Head Prep next Friday — before embarking on their own postseason journey. Their 0-2 start, which came against a pair of powerhouse teams, seems an eternity ago.
“I had total faith that we could win out the rest of the season,” said JP Peduzzi, who finished with four catches for 92 yards and two TDs. “We can still do that next week.”
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