After John Paul II took its first lead of the game late in the fourth quarter, it was looking like the same old story for the Hilton Head Prep Dolphins. But this time, they found a way and moved a step closer to punching their ticket into the postseason.
Senior Carson King capped off a big afternoon with a go-ahead rushing touchdown, and Hilton Head Prep rallied past John Paul II for a 29-22 on Friday to all but clinch a berth in the SCISA 2A playoffs.
There is still an outside chance of a three-way tie for the last two playoff spots — which JPII could create with a win over Beaufort Academy next week coupled with Hilton Head Prep loss — but the Dolphins are now in control of their destiny.
“It’s a load of pressure off,” Dolphins head coach Dave Adams said. “For two weeks we said we had to beat Northwood, and then we had to win this one to get in. Now, the pressure’s off and we can play footloose next week.”
It had the makings of a shootout early on. Hilton Head Prep (3-4-1, 2-2 region) hit the ground running on its first drive, as senior stars King and Tommy Stauffer ran and caught their way down the field. It was King who scored first, plowing his way across the goal line to cap an eight-play drive. Then, it was Stauffer’s turn. After a 24-yard scamper on third down, Stauffer caught a short pass and turned on the afterburners, taking it to the house to give the Dolphins a 14-0 lead.
But just when it was looking to be a bleak afternoon for the visiting team, JPII (2-6, 1-3) found lightning in a bottle — twice. Jeremiah Young flexed his muscles and took advantage of a weak Prep secondary, delivering a 57-yard strike to Mark Knight, who broke open across the middle and hauled in a beautiful pass to get his team on the scoreboard. The Golden Warrior defense stood tall to force a missed field goal, and then Young did it again. This time, it was Jackson Ogden catching a 70-yard bomb, and a successful two-point try to Malone Kinard-Huisinger tied it at 14. But the Dolphins responded right back after a JPII onside kick attempt. King broke loose again, scoring from 15 yards out to give Prep a 21-14 halftime lead.
The Dolphins made a huge defensive statement to start the second half. John Paul II’s option attack was cooking after an explosive 26-yard run by Young, but Hilton Head Prep’s line showed up in the red zone. Austin McIntosh and Jeremiah Young were stuffed on four straight plays, and a long six-minute drive was all for naught. A holding penalty ruined the Dolphins’ chance to extend the lead, and JPII was gifted another chance to claw back in the game.
It took 12 plays, but the Golden Warriors got the job done. Ogden was the key weapon, picking up chunks of yards on the ground before catching his second touchdown pass of the game. Young tossed a lob to the right corner of the end zone, and Ogden beat his man to the ball and hauled it in. Then, he took a sneaky handoff into the end zone again, converting the two-point try to give JPII its first lead at 22-21 with five minutes to play.
It was all in front of Prep and Harrison Green, but there was certainly some doubt in the air. All hope was nearly lost after Stauffer was punished by a pumped-up John Paul defensive line on first and second down. But then, Green stepped up and made the play on third down to an unexpected hero. Tristan Bonomo came up clutch on a play they just drew up one day ago. And it was perfectly executed by the junior, finding open space and making the grab to extend the drive and the Dolphins’ playoff hopes.
The superstar took it from there. King found something extra, eluding the defensive front to score from 28 yards out. And this time, Hilton Head Prep’s defense finished the job. Bonomo made another big play, sacking Young, and the Dolphins were disciplined on some last-chance razzle-dazzle, shutting the door to claim their spot in the postseason.
“We ran that play only twice to Tristan,” Adams said. “It was a special play, and we called on it at that moment. I thought if it was a little more crisper we could’ve scored on it. And then we gave the ball to Carson and he just willed himself into that end zone. On defense, they surprise me with little things here and there. On that drive, they stepped it up. They stopped that double reverse they threw, and the guys stepped up when they needed to.”
King and Stauffer were unstoppable on the ground, combining for over 300 rushing yards. King led the way with 17 carries for 160 yards and three touchdowns, and Stauffer ran it 20 times for 157 yards along with a receiving score. Green did his job and avoided the mistakes, completing 5 of 7 passes for 59 yards and a touchdown. Will Alford, Bonomo, and Stauffer led the winning defensive effort with six individual tackles each.
Young put up an impressive performance through the air, finishing 8/10 for 187 yards and three touchdowns while adding 66 yards on 13 carries. Ogden was sensational, catching five passes for 123 yards and two scores, and Mark Knight added a touchdown on two catches for 64 yards. Malone Kinard-Huisinger recorded a big game defensively, making nine tackles including a sack.
After their season seemed to be slipping away, Adams will focus on getting his squad ready for the SCISA 2A playoffs. But first, they’ll travel over to Hilton Head Christian Academy to play possibly the final cross-island rivalry game before the Eagles move to Bluffton. It’ll give them a valuable opportunity to go up against the cream of the crop before a potential postseason run.
“If we play well, that’s the key,” Adams said. “As long as we play well, we can keep that momentum going into the playoffs.”
Written by Wes Kerr