BJ Payne was looking for some new answers on defense this year. It’s safe to say he’s found them now. On the strength of a tremendous defensive effort, the Hilton Head High Seahawks overwhelmed the visiting James Island Trojans on Friday, forcing six turnovers and a safety en route to an enormous 24-10 region victory.
“We told the kids we had to just find ways to win,” Payne said. “We’ve got 24 guys, and a lot of them play both ways. We were able to capitalize on some things, and now we’ve gotta get ready for a really, really good May River team.”
Just like the season opener, it took awhile for the ‘Hawks to find their groove. Hilton Head was right on the doorstep of opening the scoring on its first drive, but quarterback Sam Summa was fooled on a short pass play and threw a costly interception. But a takeaway of their own just 12 yards away from the Trojan end zone gave the Seahawks the spark they needed.
Chase McCracken ran it in on the next play to give the Seahawks a 7-0 advantage. The defense struck again on the next drive, as Jayden Gilliam scooped up a loose ball for the second straight game. Summa got the legs churning on the ensuing possession, and overcame a third-and-19 to set up a beastly 22-yard McCracken touchdown run, fending off a host of Trojans to cross the goal line.
“We knew we needed to increase our turnover margin this year and play physical defense, and we were able to do that tonight,” Payne said.
But the visitors put up a strong answer to cut the lead to seven. Things certainly got a little tense for the home side, as a drive to end the half failed to produce. The offensive line was having some problems and Summa wasn’t finding his accuracy.
But a spectacular special teams play turned the tide of the game. A perfectly executed punt was downed inside the 5-yard line, and after a poor snap the Trojans fell on the pigskin in the end zone, giving the ‘Hawks the safety and a two-possession lead. After a quick penalty-doomed Seahawk drive, the defense made another play. Na’Shaun Green picked off a deep pass, leading to a four-play, 62-yard drive capped off by a beautiful Summa lob to Adam Clark in the left corner of the end zone to shut the door on the Trojans.
“It’s a tunnel vision mentality,” said Summa. “Football’s a game of twists and turns, and we knew things weren’t going to go right at all times. Mistakes are going to happen and good things are going to happen, we just needed to stay on track in order to win the game.”
James Island drew to within two touchdowns with a late field goal, but three more turnovers extinguished any hopes of a late rally.
It wasn’t the prettiest game, but Summa got the job done, throwing for 203 yards and a touchdown and carrying the ball 10 times for 72 yards. Lavarus Brown led all Seahawk rushers with 73 yards, but McCraken was the most effective. The junior scored two touchdowns on just four carries, running for 53 yards. Clark posted another solid receiving game, catching four passes for 50 yards and a touchdown.
The defense was phenomenal, forcing six turnovers and recording 12 tackles for loss. Gilliam and Clark each picked up an interception and fumble recovery. Rakeem Riley was a monster, collecting a sack, a forced fumble, and a safety.
Payne knows that his squad will have to play a near-flawless game to knock off a dangerous May River team with some renewed confidence of their own. The Seahawks (2-0) and the Sharks (3-1) will battle next Friday night at the Tank for second place in region 7-4A, and likely the final playoff spot too.
“We’ve just gotta find a way to take advantage of any mistakes they make,” Payne said. “They’re a great football program with great schemes and great players, and so we have to bring out our absolute best game.”
Written by Wes Kerr
Photo by Brooke Simons
Brooke Simons is a student-athlete at Hilton Head Island High School and an aspiring journalist. She has a passion for photography and broadcasting.