There is only one word in the English language that evokes both excitement and images of former NFL coach Jim Mora: PLAYOFFS!?!?
Yes, believe it or not, the regular-season is in the rearview and it’s do or die team for high school football teams across the Palmetto State. The chill of fall will be accompanied on the air by a feeling of finality tonight, knowing one team will walk off each field for the final time this season.
We have eight games on the slate featuring local teams, while Beaufort High received a first-round bye and awaits its first playoff matchup next Friday.
Here’s your primer for the first week of the 2019 playoffs:
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CLASS 4A PLAYOFFS
Wilson (8-2) at Hilton Head High (5-4)
The Seahawks’ reward for finishing second in Region 7-4A is a visit from ninth-ranked Wilson, which finished third in the powerhouse Region 6-4A. The Tigers, whose two losses came against top-ranked Myrtle Beach and No. 5 Hartsville in region play, earned an at-large berth last season and went on the road to knock off region champion Bluffton in the first round.
Wilson is equipped to do the same this season, though the Tigers are banged-up. According to the Florence Morning News, Wilson’s top three running backs are all “day to day” with nagging injuries, but fourth-stringer Cody Gunn rushed for 135 yards and a TD in last week’s 28-13 win over Marlboro County, and the Tigers have a dynamic quarterback in Zayshaun Rice, who has passed for 2,105 yards and 26 TDs and added 554 yards and 6 TDs on the ground.
The Seahawks also have some offensive firepower, as Gaston Moore has passed for 1,751 yards with 17 TDs and four interceptions, and running back Lavarus Brown has put up big numbers when healthy. Brown was out last week but hopes to return tonight, and if he can’t go, Will Frith rushed for 222 yards last week.
The matchup isn’t a terrible one for the Seahawks, but their lack of depth could become a factor late.
Prediction: Wilson 34, Hilton Head High 24
CLASS 3A PLAYOFFS
Swansea (4-6) at May River (7-2)
The ninth-ranked Sharks know better than to overlook the Tigers, who have won two straight and suffered a pair of two-point losses early in the season. Swansea put up a good fight in a 35-21 loss to Region 8-3A champion Wade Hampton, which handed May River a 33-24 defeat last week.
The Sharks’ ground game has been solid with quarterback Ahmad Green and running back Donovan Ling leading the way, but the passing game has been a bit out of sync. Green needs to get in a better rhythm with his receivers and hook up on some of the longer throws that have been open for the Sharks to make a deep run.
May River’s defense struggled to shut down Wade Hampton’s ground game, but the Tigers won’t be as tough to stop.
Prediction: May River 31, Swansea 20
Ridgeland-Hardeeville (2-7) at Gilbert (9-1)
The Jaguars were able to sneak into the playoffs with a 28-22 win over Lake Marion last week, and their reward is a daunting task with a trip to No. 3 Gilbert in the first round.
The Indians have won four straight since their lone defeat, a 48-40 loss at Class 5A River Bluff, and their offense has been overpowering. Gilbert averages 46.2 points per game and has topped 50 on four occasions.
The Jags have a solid offensive line and an outstanding running back in Joe Robinson, but it’s hard to imagine them going on the road and knocking off the No. 3 team in the state.
Prediction: Gilbert 51, Ridgeland-Hardeeville 14
Battery Creek (3-5) at Strom Thurmond (8-2)
The Dolphins are hoping to bounce back after a demoralizing 38-0 loss at Whale Branch to close out the regular season, and they’ll have their hands full with a trip to No. 9 Strom Thurmond.
The Rebels have won eight of their last nine games since dropping a one-point decision in their opener vs. Saluda, and their other loss was a 30-26 heartbreaker at No. 3 Gilbert. This is a good team. Quarterback Jequan Harris can hurt teams with his arm or his legs, and Stanley Hill is a solid complement to Harris in the running game.
Battery Creek’s offense has struggled against quality opponents, and the defense that played well during a three-game winning streak was gashed on the ground by Whale Branch last week, which doesn’t bode well against the Rebels.
Prediction: Strom Thurmond 33, Battery Creek 12
CLASS 2A PLAYOFFS
Whale Branch (6-3) at Philip Simmons (4-5)
It was a rollercoaster week for the Warriors as they awaited their first-round opponent, but everything came up aces for Whale Branch. SCHSL’s decision to drop undefeated (other than forfeits) Oceanside Collegiate to the No. 4 seed means the Warriors travel to Philip Simmons — a team they beat 36-9 on Sept. 27 — instead of No. 5 Timberland.
Of course, the Warriors will be without two-way star De’Arius Hazel for the rematch after he broke his leg in last week’s win over Battery Creek. Hazel is the team’s top rusher and No. 2 tackler, but Joseph Hicks stepped up with a 100-yard rushing game last week and the Warriors still have JacQuez Frazier to anchor the defense.
The Ironhorses technically have won three straight, though one was a forfeit in a game they lost 70-0 to Oceanside. The rematch might be a little closer with Hazel out of the mix, but the Warriors still should be able to advance.
Prediction: Whale Branch 26, Philip Simmons 13
SCISA 2A PLAYOFFS
Greenwood Christian (5-4) at Hilton Head Christian Academy (9-1)
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: It’s a matchup of contrasting styles this week, as HHCA and its pass-happy spread attack face an old-school, run-first team. It’s a common refrain for the Eagles, whose high-flying offense is a bit of an anomaly in the SCISA ranks.
Greenwood Christian likes to line up in the I-formation or with split backs and pound the ball on the ground, which has been a relatively effective way to attack HHCA. The Eagles’ run defense has steadily improved, though, and they should be able to limit the damage.
Greenwood Christian would be fortunate to say the same, but the outlook is not as promising for them. HHCA quarterback Hayden Shinn is playing at a high level and hurting teams on the ground and through the air with a bevy of talented receivers led by JP Peduzzi and Daniel Harrington.
The Eagles should roll in this one.
Prediction: HHCA 42, Greenwood Christian 20
Hilton Head Prep (4-6) at Florence Christian (7-4)
The Dolphins face a stiff test in the first round with a trip to defending state champion Florence Christian, which has put together another fine season following a 1-3 start.
The Eagles had their five-game winning streak snapped with a 53-21 loss to top-ranked Trinity-Byrnes but bounced back last week to win 55-35 at Williamsburg Academy. Marshall Brown (1,152 yards, 14 TDs) leads Florence Christian’s strong ground game, and quarterback Robbie Jordan is good for a couple big passing plays per game.
HHP also has some weapons on offense with quarterback Stone McDonald back at full strength and flanked by wing back Tommy Stauffer, but they’ve had a tough time putting up points against strong defenses, and the Eagles fit the bill.
Prediction: Florence Christian 35, Hilton Head Prep 28
SCISA 1A PLAYOFFS
Dillon Christian (4-6) at Thomas Heyward (8-2)
Dillon Christian has been one of the perennial powers in SCISA 1A in recent years, but the Warriors are in a valley at the moment. They struggled down the stretch, suffering lopsided defeats to Florence Christian and Carolina Academy before barely getting by one-win Thomas Sumter 26-22.
The second-ranked Rebels went through a rough patch of their own with two losses in three games, but they bounced back for a 42-6 win over Dorchester Academy two weeks ago and were idle last week, so they should be at full strength.
Expect a heavy dose of the run with JR Patterson, John Clark Tilton, Bruzza Pusha — and, if all goes well, the backups — as THA rolls into the semifinals.
Prediction: Thomas Heyward 44, Dillon Christian 13