HSFB: LowcoSports’ round 2 playoff primer

Playoff football weather out here messing up people’s schedules. 

With nasty weather descending on the Palmetto State on Thursday and Friday, numerous games have been moved up a day — including May River’s Class 3A showdown with Aynor — it has kicked sports writers around the state into high gear, so you get an extra day to read up on the rest of this week’s playoff slate.

Here’s your round 2 playoff primer:

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Hartsville (9-3) at Beaufort High (4-5)

After an unexpected week off, the Eagles are ready to begin the postseason — and put their four-game winning streak on the line — by hosting Hartsville.

Beaufort has won four straight following an 0-5 start against a brutal early schedule, and the remarkable turnaround has been built on an option attack led by junior Daniel Phares, who took over after quarterback Tyler Haley was lost for the season to a shoulder injury, and running back James Dagin. 

The Eagles’ defense also has shown steady improvement, as three freshman starters have grown up over the course of the season and the run defense in particular has stabilized. 

Continuing that trend will be critical to the Eagles’ success, because the Red Foxes have a powerful ground game led by J’Shawn Anderson (780 rushing yards, 6 TDs), quarterback Owen Taylor (423 yards, 6 TDs), and Darian McMillan (408 yards, 10 TDs).

“They’re just a really well coached football team,” Beaufort coach Bryce Lybrand said. “They are big and physical. Three great linebackers and a couple of skill kids that can really run. The quarterback is a good football player.”

The winner advances to face either Brookland-Cayce or Wilson in the third round. 

Prediction: Beaufort High 33, Hartsville 30

May River (8-2) at Aynor (11-0)

We’ll get treated to this tasty matchup a day early thanks to the threat of freezing rain in the Pee Dee region Friday. 

Getting this one in a day early should be beneficial to the Sharks, because while both teams want to run the ball first, May River is more dependent on being balanced on offense. In fact, the Sharks need quarterback Ahmad Green to connect on a couple of passes early to open up the run and keep the Blue Jackets honest on defense. 

May River’s defense has been dinged by a couple key injuries late in the season, but the Sharks did a nice job of shutting down Swansea last week. They’ll have a scheme in place to slow down Aynor’s ground game, but they’ll have to execute and make the tackles to get the job done.

“They try to eat up the clock and play keep away,” May River coach Rodney Summers said. “It’s going to be critical that we score when we have the ball and get some stops.”

If the Sharks can get an early lead and make the Blue Jackets play from behind, they’ll have a good chance to pull off the upset on the road and advance to face either Cheraw or Strom Thurmond next week.

Prediction: May River 23, Aynor 20

Oceanside Collegiate (6-4) at Whale Branch (7-3)

Whale Branch coach Jerry Hatcher was disappointed in his team’s preparation and performance when the Warriors faced No. 2 Barnwell during the region schedule, but he expects a better showing in another challenging matchup in the second round of the playoffs.

All eyes are on Oceanside Collegiate this postseason after the Landsharks were handed a steep penalty — four forfeits, which dropped them from the No. 1 seed to the No. 4 slot — for using ineligible players, but still allowed to compete in the playoffs.

That decision helped the Warriors with their first-round matchup, but it makes things difficult this week. The Landsharks were 10-0 and ranked fourth in Class 2A before the ruling dinged their record, so they have yet to be defeated on the field. With a prolific offense led by Sean Cooney (2,401 passing yards, 27 TDs, 4 INTs) and Keegan Williams (1,536 rushing yards, 31 TDs), OCA scored at least 49 points in nine of its 10 games. 

OCA’s defense has been dinged for 40 and 36 points the past two weeks, though, so there’s hope for the Warriors, whose ground game has been strong with quarterback Jaylen Reeves and a committee of running backs working behind a solid offensive line.

Whale Branch lost two-way standout De’Arius Hazel to a broken leg in the regular-season finale against Battery Creek, but they embraced the “next man up” philosophy and got major contributions from a number of players to help make up for Hazel’s absence in last week’s 36-10 win at Philip Simmons.

It will be an uphill climb Friday, but the Warriors will leave it all on the field. The winner travels to Calhoun County or Woodland next week.

Prediction: Oceanside Collegiate 42, Whale Branch 28

Florence Christian (8-4) at Hilton Head Christian Academy (10-1)

A year ago, Florence Christian came to town and pummeled HHCA 49-19 in the first round of the SCISA 2A playoffs on its way to a state championship. But that HHCA team was without Hayden Shinn, it’s dual-threat quarterback who was critical to the Eagles’ offensive success. HHCA will have Shinn this time, but it’s still a difficult matchup for the Eagles. 

It’s the same story every week for HHCA, whose spread passing attack is a stark contrast from the typical SCISA offense. Defending state champion Florence Christian is representative of that traditional run-based philosophy, but FCS does it better than most. 

“They have 15 guys over 200 pounds, and we have two,” HHCA coach Ron Peduzzi said. 

HHCA has been able to mask its lack of size in the trenches by speeding up the game, which is counter to FCS’ approach to grind it out on the ground and milk the clock. FCS only passes about 10 times per game and leans on running backs Marshall Brown (1,421 yards, 18 TDs), Ethan Kelly (850 yards, 10 TDs), and Andre Aikens (647 yards, 11 TDs). 

HHCA will have its hands full slowing town the ground game, but its offense should be able to give FCS fits, as well. Hayden Shinn is one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the state at any level, having passed for 2,926 yards with 38 touchdowns and nine interceptions and added a team-high 699 rushing yards and nine TDs on the ground, and he has a stable of dangerous receivers led by JP Peduzzi (49 catches, 929 yards, 14 TDs) and Daniel Harrington (45 catches, 806 yards, 10 TDs). 

The x-factor will be the weather. Steady rain is projected all day Friday and right through game time, which could put a damper on HHCA’s passing game, so Peduzzi will have to have a plan B in case of heavy rain that limits the gameplan. 

Prediction: Hilton Head Christian Academy 34, Florence Christian 28

Thomas Heyward (9-2) at Pee Dee Academy (8-2)

One great thing about the SCISA playoffs is how quickly they ramp up in intensity. Sure, it’s *only* the second round, but it’s also the state semifinals, and we get a rematch of last year’s SCISA 1A title game this week. 

The Rebels won that one, as well as a 42-23 home win over the Eagles on Sept. 20, but Pee Dee has been on a bit of a tear since, winning seven straight in convincing fashion. 

Freshman quarterback Hudson Spivey has grown into his role, passing for 1,998 yards with 26 TDs and eight interceptions, and fellow freshman Coleby Sinclair leads the team with 784 rushing yards and 10 TDs. 

THA jumped on the Eagles early in the regular-season matchup, then had to fight to hang on in the second half, which was reminiscent of Pee Dee’s stunning comeback win at THA in the 2017 semifinals. 

The Rebels have a little different look than they did in the first meeting, as Bruzza Pusha is now taking most of the snaps under center and guiding a power run game while flanked by dynamic backs JR Patterson and John Clark Tilton. 

THA should be able to move the ball on the ground and put up points; the only question is whether the defense can make enough stops to send the Rebels back to the championship game.

Prediction: Thomas Heyward 42, Pee Dee Academy 40

Last week: 8-0
Season: 85-14

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