After a regular season played on pins and needles, we’ve finally reached the high school football playoffs in the Palmetto State. The private schools will kick off the postseason tonight with the first round of the SCISA playoffs, and four Lowco area teams are beginning a quest they hope to see through to a state title.
That quartet includes a pair of teams hoping to return to the title game — two-time defending SCISA 1A champion Thomas Heyward Academy and SCISA 2A runner-up Hilton Head Christian Academy. They’ll both open at home tonight, while Beaufort Academy and Hilton Head Prep hit the road to open the SCISA 2A playoffs.
Here’s our primer to get you ready for all the action.
Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach (2-5) at Thomas Heyward (9-1)
The Rebels have won nine straight games — and two straight SCISA 1A state championships — and neither of those streaks is going to end tonight.
Thomas Heyward has been dominant recently following a midseason lull, much like last season, and they’re poised to steamroll the Saints, who have dropped three straight — two of them by 50 points or more.
The Rebels have been able to spread the workload around, especially during three straight lopsided wins, as Dietrich Shuford and Anthony Fripp have helped share the carries with JR Patterson, giving THA a deep backfield. Peyton Bennett has been rock-solid at quarterback and has some weapons in Bruzza Pusha and Brandon Howard, as well as a dominant offensive line that gives him time to operate.
THA’s defense has been outstanding, as well, pitching a couple of shutouts and shutting down some dangerous quarterbacks during the impressive winning streak. The Saints don’t have the weapons to threaten a Rebels defense led by Howard and John Hampton Hewlett.
Look for the Rebels to put it away before halftime and turn their focus to next week’s semifinals. — Justin Jarrett
JJ: Thomas Heyward 48, Christian Academy 13
WK: Thomas Heyward 48, Christian Academy 6
Spartanburg Christian (2-6) at Hilton Head Christian (9-0)
The undefeated Eagles are ready to make some noise in the SCISA playoffs. Hilton Head Christian Academy will look to take their first step toward state championship redemption when they host Spartanburg Christian on Friday in the SCISA 2A first round.
The Warriors should not pose a threat to an Eagle squad locked and loaded to make this last year on the island a special one. After the astounding arm of Hayden Shinn stole the show last year, Ron Peduzzi turned to a dynamic duo of receivers turned quarterbacks. The tandem of JP Peduzzi and Jace Blackshear has been an overwhelming success, making this high-flying attack as dangerous as ever to defend. Both will get their time under center, although Blackshear has received the majority of the drives recently. He’s done it all for the Eagles, scoring 13 combined passing, rushing, and receiving touchdowns in just the last two games. He’ll get some more designed runs Friday night, but he loves to hook up with Peduzzi, which has been an unbeatable connection all year.
And that’s far from all of the weapons and talents that the Eagles have to work with. Cameron Strickland and May River transfer Jayden Void will be important factors in this year’s playoff run, and don’t forget about junior Riley Shinn and freshman Isaiah Anderson, who both caught touchdown passes last week. The Warrior defense has been a mixed bag this season, giving up 42 to a sub-par Florence Christian team while holding a solid Pee Dee Academy squad to 14 points. But this Eagle offense has been able to execute no matter the opposition, and they should not have a problem against an up-and-down Spartanburg unit.
The offense may get the most attention at the end of the day, but HHCA’s Junkyard Dogs have been a defensive menace all year long. Troy Chisolm and Jackson “Bulldog” Lanier have become a dynamic duo of their own this season, and they should lead the charge against a Warrior group that will heavily run the ball. Daniel Osburne and Riley McDonald will lead a two-headed attack that a strong Eagle defense should be able to hold down. If lineman Kent Camp can win the battles at the line of scrimmage that he’s done all season, it will be tough for the Warriors to pick up consistent yardage.
The Eagle defense forced four turnovers a week ago, and expect the takeaways to continue against a weak Spartanburg passing game. Strickland has picked off a pass in the last two games, and the senior will be looking to make some more plays Friday night.
The Eagles have had trouble starting off games this season, so putting some early points on the board will be critical to creating momentum in this playoff run. But there should be no problem racking up the points this time with a red-hot offense against a very beatable Spartanburg squad. The firepower of Blackshear and Peduzzi has not been stopped so far, and it shouldn’t be on Friday night, as the Eagles look to cruise on to the semifinals. -Wes Kerr
JJ: Hilton Head Christian 47, Spartanburg Christian 13
WK: Hilton Head Christian 45, Spartanburg Christian 14
Hilton Head Prep (3-5-1) at Carolina Academy (6-1)
Hilton Head Prep’s seniors have made a mark on the Dolphins’ football program, but they’re not finished yet. After leading the Dolphins to a win over John Paul II to earn the region’s final playoff spot, the sensational senior class will look to shock top-seeded Carolina Academy in the first round of the SCISA 2A playoffs.
The Bobcats come into the playoffs with a 6-1 record and are flying high after taking down Pee Dee to clinch the No. 1 seed in their region. It will be a challenging test for a Dolphins team that could not take advantage of opportunities against HHCA last week. Carolina Academy may not be as potent as the Eagles, but this Bobcat defense has been lights-out this season, averaging 15.4 points allowed and holding their opponents to under 25 in every single contest so far.
HHP quarterback Harrison Green has shown some signs of brilliance but has also struggled with his accuracy and decision-making at times. He’ll have to play his best game of the season to pick apart an unrelenting Bobcat defensive unit. He’s got solid pieces to work with including speed demon Tommy Stauffer, who has been red-hot over the second half of this season, and his burst both across the line and on outside runs has helped pick up valuable yards and open up other looks for this offense.
They’ll have to rely more on Stauffer after losing Carson King to an ankle injury last week, but we could also see Loncelle Daley, Gunner Askeland, and Luke Foley have more of a role running and catching the football. The Dolphins have nothing to lose here, so expect them to pull out all the trick plays to try to catch the Bobcats napping. It’s going to take a tremendous effort by the offensive line and Green to consistently move the ball and avoid any mistakes. They can’t afford to commit those penalties and turnovers like last week against a team in playoff football form.
Hilton Head Prep’s defense has made some big plays against even the best offenses, and they’ll need some more if they want to keep up with Carolina Academy. They’ll miss having King at linebacker, but others have stepped up this season down the stretch. Stauffer has racked up the tackles as well, and Tristan Bonomo is becoming a go-to playmaker, recording several enormous drive-ending sacks this season. Loncelle Daley has broken out this year alongside his brother Ezron, and Foley came up big with an interception last week against Hilton Head Christian. They’re a hard-working bunch that will play their hearts out, and if they can force a couple early turnovers and hang around in this game, it can certainly give the Dolphins a chance to make this playoff game interesting.
Carolina Academy is a strong favorite, and it’s been difficult for the Dolphins to find the depth to play at that top level for a full 48 minutes. But seniors Stauffer, Daley, and Green aren’t ready to stop now. Expect the top talent to leave it all out there with the hopes of making enough plays on defense to give Green and the Prep attack a chance to hang around.
Dave Adams’ squad should be motivated after a tough showing against their rivals next week, and they still have much more to prove. It will take something special, but this team has shown it has what it takes to compete with the best. -Wes Kerr
JJ: Carolina Academy 31, Hilton Head Prep 13
WK: Carolina Academy 24, Hilton Head Prep 14
Beaufort Academy (5-5) at Pee Dee Academy (6-1)
Just a few weeks ago, Beaufort Academy looked like one of the biggest challenges to Hilton Head Christian Academy in SCISA Class 2A, and they still might be. But the Eagles enter the playoffs on a three-game losing streak, and only a postseason victory can ease the pain.
BA is still a dangerous team in the playoffs, especially with Carlos Jones expected to return from injury and energize a backfield that already includes workhorse Ja’Sean Lawson and the multi-talented Elijah Fess and Jaxen Porter. Getting Jones back also allows the Eagles to use Fess more as a receiver who can get open downfield for Braydon Dineen, who also can hurt defenses with his legs.
The Eagles have been in every game, and their offense has been able to put up numbers against just about everyone, but they’ll face a stiff Pee Dee defense that hasn’t allowed more than 19 points in a game this season. Pee Dee was undefeated until last week’s 16-14 loss at Carolina Academy, which bumped one of the top title defenders to the No. 2 seed.
Pee Dee’s offense is multi-dimensional, as sophomore Hudson Spivey can sling it and has three receivers who have caught at least 15 passes and six who have snagged TDs. Caleb Oakley (840 yards, 10 TDs) is his favorite target, but if the Eagles concentrate too much on stopping the pass, they’ll have to contend with running back Coleby Sinclair (628 yards, 7 TDs).
BA’s defense has passed some big tests this season, but the Eagles have given up a lot of points down the stretch, so this matchup is worrisome. The Eagles’ secondary will have to be locked in and prevent big plays through the passing game, and they can’t afford mistakes like missed tackles, penalties, or turnovers if they want to earn a rematch with Hilton Head Christian Academy. — Justin Jarrett
JJ: Pee Dee Academy 27, Beaufort Academy 21
WK: Beaufort Academy 28, Pee Dee Academy 24
JJ: 2-1 last week, 30-6-1 overall
WK: 2-1 last week, 30-6-1 overall