The smell of playoff football is starting to waft over the Lowco, and the playoffs might as well begin tonight — or this afternoon, rather — for a couple of area SCISA squads.
It’s win-or-stay-home (for the postseason) time in Sea Pines this afternoon for a region clash between Hilton Head Prep and John Paul II, and powerhouses Hilton Head Christian Academy and Thomas Heyward Academy face tough tests as they try to wrap up No. 1 seeds in the playoffs.
All three matchups on the area slate figure to be exciting ones, so let’s get ready with the SCISA Week 9 primer.
John Paul II (2-5) at Hilton Head Prep (2-5-1), 3:45 p.m.
Two teams, one playoff spot. Fresh off a momentum-building win, the Hilton Head Prep Dolphins will host John Paul II for the right to claim the region’s final postseason berth. This Friday matinee should be anyone’s game, as a pair of quarterbacks will look to prove they can handle make-or-break pressure.
Jeremiah Young has become a superstar under center for John Paul II, and he’ll lead his Golden Warriors into Sea Pines after a tough but teachable loss to Hilton Head Christian. They were putting together drives against an elite defense, until a couple plays derailed things. It certainly won’t be as difficult on Friday, but Carson King and the Daley duo of Ezron and Loncelle have been playing fantastic run defense all season. They’ll surely keep their eyes on Young and look to limit his threat on the ground. But through the air is where the Dolphins are at their weakest. And with playmaking receivers like Mark Knight and 6-foot-4 Malone Kinard-Huisinger, JP2 could rake in the passing game. Young has made big strides throwing the football this year, and a couple big plays through the air could spell doom for the Dolphins.
Harrison Green was impressive last week against Northwood Academy, and he’ll have to play another solid game to keep his squad in this do-or-die battle. After throwing for three touchdowns last week, Green and the Dolphins will face a JP2 defense led by solid defensive linemen Hayden Jennings and Austin McIntosh. The Dolphins line will need to deliver to give opportunities for senior stars Tommy Stauffer and King, the latter coming off a four-touchdown game against the Chargers. Stauffer has found his rhythm in the back half of the regular season, and should get his opportunities to make some big plays. He’s averaged a whopping 14.8 yards per carry for 266 yards in the past two games. But don’t forget about Green, who is a threat to run the football as well. King is the main target through the air, but Gunnar Askeland should be kept on watch too. The senior has been making plays on offense and special teams, including a touchdown catch against Northwood.
It’s been a solid second year for John Paul II and Chris Myers. After a winless 2019, the Golden Warriors have been competitive against SCISA’s best teams, and will now look to grab a statement win on the road to punch their ticket to the playoffs. It’s easier said than done, however. Can Young rise to the occasion and execute in a make-or-break game? But Stauffer and King have other ideas, and the seniors will look to carry the Dolphins on both sides of the ball. It’ll come down to which quarterback can manage the game better, and which defense can stay disciplined enough to spoil the opponent’s plans. Nothing better than a late-season battle with so much on the line. — Wes Kerr
JJ: John Paul II 36, Hilton Head Prep 30
WK: John Paul II 24, Hilton Head Prep 21
Hilton Head Christian (7-0) at Beaufort Academy (5-3), 7:30 p.m.
Ron Peduzzi and company at Hilton Head Christian Academy are one win away from a region title, but standing in their way is a trip to dangerous Beaufort Academy. After a tough one-point loss at Orangeburg Prep, BA can still finish on top if they win and the region tiebreakers go their way. But knocking off unbeaten HHCA will be a very tough task.
After a couple of tough battles where they were severely tested, Hilton Head Christian left no doubt in a dominating win over John Paul II to move a step closer to clinching the region. They can finish that job Friday if they can solve a menacing Beaufort Academy defense that allowed only 16 points to an outstanding Thomas Heyward squad. BA will have to be as sharp as ever going up against the speed and talent of JP Peduzzi and Jace Blackshear, and will look to avoid giving up the big plays that make that HHCA offense so explosive. They’ll also have to look out for senior Cameron Strickland, who’s been an important go-to playmaker this year. We’ve seen BA exhibit their bend-but-don’t-break mentality many times this season, especially in the win over Bethesda. If Braydon Dineen, Devonte Green, and company can make a big play or two on early downs, they can put some pressure on the visitors to execute.
Beaufort Academy’s offense thrives on the run game, but those yards will be difficult to come by against Ron Peduzzi’s junkyard dog defense. It will be a battle in the trenches that should be won by the Hilton Head Christian defense. He’s only 5-8, but Kent Camp epitomizes the grit and tenacity of HHCA’s unit that will be focused on stuffing BA’s rushing threat of Carlos Jones and Ja’Sean Lawson. The senior linebacking tandem of JP Wilder and Troy Chisolm has been excellent, and Jackson Lanier continues to show up and make plays in the heart of that defense. Dineen and BA may have to throw the football some to keep the junkyard dogs in check. He hasn’t let it fly a ton of times this year, but Dineen has been a very accurate passer when he’s had to throw, and he’ll need to make some big ones to stay in this ballgame.
Despite Hilton Head Christian’s unstoppable success this year, they have had their struggles opening up games on the road. If BA can make a big stop or two on the defensive side to start this game, they could start to really worry the visitors. The longer Mark Clifford’s side stays alive in this contest, the tougher it will be for HHCA to put them away. It will take a ton of fight and some tipped balls and turnovers to go their way, but from what we’ve seen of Beaufort Academy and their resilient, never-give-in squad, it’s really hard to count them out. — Wes Kerr
JJ: Hilton Head Christian 28, Beaufort Academy 20
WK: Hilton Head Christian 28, Beaufort Academy 14
Bethesda Academy (4-3) at Thomas Heyward (7-1), 7:30 p.m.
It’s time for the latest installment of what has quickly become one of the best new rivalries in SCISA. It’s a rematch of last year’s SCISA 1A state championship game in which the Rebels dominated the Blazers 30-6 to capture their second straight state title, but Bethesda beat THA 28-16 in the regular season.
The Rebels have rolled to seven straight wins, and although they had some difficulty putting away scrappy Beaufort Academy and John Paul II teams, they got back to their dominant ways the past two weeks with a 61-0 rout of Colleton Prep and an eye-opening 31-6 win at previously unbeaten St. John’s Christian.
THA’s ground game has been unstoppable regardless of who is running behind an outstanding offensive line, as both JR Patterson (714 yards, 6 TDs) and Anthony Fripp (592 yards, 5 TDs) rank among the Lowco’s SCISA leaders. Bruzza Pusha was the offensive star down the stretch last season, lining up at quarterback for the playoff run and leading the title game rout. With Peyton Bennett putting up big numbers through the air — he leads the area in passing (1,082 yards) with 12 TDs and two interceptions — Pusha is free to make big plays down the field and get involved in the run game in certain situations.
The Rebels are going to put up points, but the Blazers are perfectly capable of keeping pace. Quarterback Antjuan McKay is a rare talent who can sling it deep and make plays with his legs, often turning busted plays into big gains. THA’s defensive line needs to get pressure on McKay to disrupt his timing, and whoever is tasked with spying McKay will need to be fundamentally sound. This one has real shootout potential, but the Rebels have the stronger defense, and that should give them the edge and the outright region title. — Justin Jarrett
JJ: Thomas Heyward 39, Bethesda Academy 27
WK: Thomas Heyward 32, Bethesda Academy 22
JJ: 3-1 last week, 26-4-1 overall
WK: 3-1 last week, 26-4-1 overall