Even though we’re only two weeks into the season, the compacted S.C. High School League schedule and condensed playoff format means we’re starting to see the playoff picture develop, and winning is the only way to stay in it.
The stakes are rising each week, and the four games involving Lowco teams on this week’s slate carry a heaping helping of postseason implications. Every game is a must-win for someone, either to have a shot at making the playoffs or to preserve the hopes of a region title.
The action under the Friday Night Lights should be fierce in SCHSL Week 3, and here’s our primer.
Bishop England (1-1) at Battery Creek (1-1), 7:30 p.m.
After coming out of the gates with an impressive rout of Academic Magnet, the Dolphins hit a speed bump last week in a lopsided loss at Hanahan. The Hawks look like a powerhouse program this season, so there’s no shame in losing to them on the road, but Battery Creek needs to recapture the intensity it displayed in Week 1 to compete with the Bishops and prove they can crack the top half of the conference.
Battery Creek’s offensive line needs to set the tone and open holes for quarterback Jacove Anderson and running backs Jeremiah Dilbert and Jaeon Allen, allowing the Dolphins to control the ball and keep their defense fresh for a tough task of stopping the Bishops. Anderson was the only runner who had any success against Hanahan with 74 yards on 21 carries, so they’ll need more from the supporting cast to get it done tonight.
The bigger questions might be whether the Dolphins’ defense can make enough stops. While the Bishops don’t have the same caliber of ground game as the Hawks, sophomore quarterback Marco Pampu is a dangerous runner, and he splits time with Eddie Marinaro, who is a capable passer. If the Dolphins can make it a low-scoring game, they’ll have a great chance at a big region win. — Justin Jarrett
JJ: Bishop England 27, Battery Creek 24
WK: Bishop England 24, Battery Creek 21
BL: Bishop England 24, Battery Creek 21
Whale Branch (2-0) at Baptist Hill (2-0), 7:30 p.m.
Two games, 85 points scored, zero points allowed. It’s been a dream start for Jerry Hatcher’s Whale Branch Warriors, now No. 6 in the SCHSL Class 1A poll. Although it’s been against lesser 1A competition, pitching a perfect shutout in the season’s first two games is no easy feat against anybody. Now, they’ll hit the road to play fellow undefeated squad Baptist Hill, which could very well decide the region championship.
Although the defense has been the star of the show in Seabrook, the Warriors have brought it on the offensive side as well. Quarterback Jaylen Reeves leads a fantastic ground attack into Baptist Hill, after five different players scored a rushing touchdown in last week’s victory over Military Magnet. Junior Joseph Hicks has been a breakout star, and his tremendous vision and strength has made him successful on both sides of the field. Jaylen Reeves loves to run the ball himself but has been working on his throws over the offseason, so it’s not out of the question for Whale Branch to air it out on occasion. The Bobcats will present a test that the Warriors have not seen yet this year, led by senior Donnelle Gathers Jr. with 29 tackles through the first two games.
We don’t see many 1A teams who are extremely pass-happy, but the Baptist Hill Bobcats are an exception. It’s even more impressive that the hot arm is only a freshman. Harold Gathers has impressed from the very start, throwing for over 180 yards a game along with three passing touchdowns. His completion percentage of 73.8% is even more impressive, and it will be up to a dynamite Whale Branch secondary to shut down the aerial attack. Reeves leads a strong group of defensive backs who will be tested against a pair of solid wideouts in Terrance Brown and Kevin Townsend. Both Brown and Townsend double as contributors in the backfield, so the Warriors will have to be on their toes against an offense that can certainly mix it up. Hicks will come in handy at linebacker, roving around the field and making impact plays for Whale Branch.
It’s a statement game for the Warriors. They’ll be challenged on both sides of the ball, but they have all the pieces in the toolbox to neutralize the Bobcats’ gameplan and take full control of the region. It’s one thing to take care of business against the lower-end teams in the region, but a dominant win against Baptist Hill will not just put the Warriors in the driver’s seat of the region, but in the state, too. — Wes Kerr
JJ: Whale Branch 33, Baptist Hill 20
WK: Whale Branch 35, Baptist Hill 21
BL: Whale Branch 37, Baptist Hill 24
Hilton Head (0-0) at Bluffton (0-2), 7:30 p.m.
October 9 couldn’t have come faster for BJ Payne and the Hilton Head Seahawks. After weeks in limbo after the program reported a positive COVID-19 test, the Seahawks will finally take the field. And it’s not just any opener. It’s the Bridge Bowl, the annual rivalry game between Hilton Head and the Bluffton Bobcats. Bluffton may come into this edition sitting at 0-2, but John Houpt’s group has much to prove, and there’s no better opponent to show it off against than the Seahawks.
Hilton Head may have the better roster on paper, but the Seahawks have yet to test themselves against another squad, and there’s bound to be some rust in this one. It’s a completely new team compared to last year’s edition, returning only three starters on offense and four on defense. But they’ll have a veteran leader under center, and in a year like this that may be exactly what they need.
Sam Summa will take the reins at quarterback after starting for two seasons at John Paul II and backing up Gaston Moore a year ago, and he will look to use that veteran leadership to elevate a group of inexperienced players. Look for a heavy dose of Lavarus Brown, one of the few returnees from last year, who is a reliable running back and should perform well against a Bobcat run defense that was toyed with a week ago by May River. Summa can make some plays with his arm, and he’ll have Evan Elliott at his disposal, who balled out in last year’s Bridge Bowl, hauling in a 72-yard touchdown catch and run from Moore. DJ Aiken is a menace to watch on the line, and could very well disrupt a young offensive line, but the Seahawks should be able to find success against a Bluffton unit that has struggled so far this season.
The Bobcats offense revolves around stellar running back Kylan Simmons, who was the best green jersey on the field last Friday night. Hilton Head will look to use Under Armour All American Game commit Jaylen Sneed and a young defensive front to try to stop Simmons and force Nate Hoyt to beat a fresh secondary without the help of Cole DeMarzo and Christian Miller. If Hoyt can channel the success he found near the end of the May River contest and sling some balls deep to talented wide receiver Jaylin Linder, the Bobcats will be able to put some points on the board. The Seahawks’ unit is very inexperienced, and could run into trouble against a team well into their season with a running back who can quickly take over a game.
We should see large chunks of scoring in this game, and the defense that can find a way to confuse the opposing offense first will have the leg up. Payne has bred success year in and year out at Hilton Head, but this ninth season may very well be his toughest test yet. With only two playoff teams per region, it’s a game they must win to even pose a threat to Beaufort or May River. It may be a rebuilding year for Bluffton, but John Houpt and the Bobcats are starting to make some strides and are hungry for a victory, especially against their rivals. All bets are off in a rivalry game like this, but if Summa and Brown can find their rhythm early, they should be able to outscore an inconsistent Bobcat offense. — Wes Kerr
JJ: Hilton Head High 30, Bluffton 27
WK: Hilton Head High 35, Bluffton 30
BL: Hilton Head High 21, Bluffton 17
Beaufort (1-0) at May River (2-0), 7:30 p.m.
It’s the granddaddy of them all in a compact Region 7-4A schedule, as the defending Class 3A Lower State runner-up Sharks host the defending region champs, who also happened to hand them their first loss a year ago. Needless to say, the stakes are high, as the winner will become the frontrunner for the region crown and gain an important buffer to allow them a later slipup without endangering their playoff hopes.
The most intriguing — and perhaps most important — matchup will be on the line of scrimmage, especially when the Sharks have the ball. Their road-grader offensive line that paved the way for three 100-yard rushers last weei — running backs Jaiden Jones and Cam Scott and quarterback Ahmad Green — will face a stiff test against a dominant defensive line anchored by sophomore phenom Eamon Smalls. It’s not just Smalls clogging up holes, though, as Alvin Black and Theo Washington are also impact players on the defensive line who will try to disrupt the Sharks’ ground game.
Beaufort’s offense was equally explosive in a season-opening 48-6 win over James Island, as junior quarterback Tyler Haley reclaimed the reins of the offense in impressive fashion, hurting the Trojans with his big left arm and his legs. Jaylin Houseal and Amariee Morris split the load in the backfield and both had success, but they will face a bigger challenge against a May River defense led by linebacker Eli Hall. A relatively untested Sharks secondary will have to contend with the likes of Marcus Goodwater and Daniel Phares, who can make plays on the edges and downfield.
This one figures to be competitive from kickoff to the final horn, and it could come down to who executes on a handful of key plays throughout the evening. The margin for error is razor-thin with only two playoff spots per region, so both teams will leave it all on the field tonight in the Tank. — Justin Jarrett
JJ: Beaufort High 27, May River 24
WK: May River 30, Beaufort High 28
BL: Beaufort High 30, May River 27
JJ: 4-0 last week, 7-1 overall
WK: 3-1 last week, 7-1 overall
BL: 3-1 last week, 7-1 overall
Photo by Andrea Fabian