For many teams, this is the end of the road, whether it comes in the form of a crushing playoff defeat or one last shot to claim bragging rights and end a highly unusual season on a high note.
There are four games on the SCHSL high school football slate involving Lowco area teams this week — three of them do-or-die playoff matchups and one season-capper for a pair of teams who lost multiple games to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Everyone knows their seasons — and the seniors’ careers — are on the line, so the effort level should be maxed out, and the pads should be popping. Here’s our primer to get you ready for all the action.
Johnsonville (6-1) at Whale Branch (7-0)
The Warriors look to carry the momentum from the first perfect regular season in program history into the Class 1A playoffs, and there won’t be any easy matchups from here on out. Despite claiming the region title and top seed, No. 6 Whale Branch has a tough road through the condensed playoff bracket, beginning with the seventh-ranked Flashes.
The Whale Branch defense has pitched four shutouts, including a 50-0 rout of Estill last week, but the Flashes might present their toughest test yet. Johnsonville averages 33 points per game and has put up at least 30 in every game but one — a 30-20 loss to top-ranked Lake View.
The Flashes can do it on the ground or through the air, as sophomore DaQuan Burroughs (612 yards, 4 TDs) leads the running game and freshman Malik Shippy and speedy senior Quez Lewis have been a lethal combination, hooking up 24 times for 452 yards and eight TDs. The good news for the Warriors is Lewis is the only real threat they need to contain in the passing game, and Amar Jenkins and Jaylen Reeves should be up to the task.
If Johnsonville is going to beat the Whale Branch defense, it will likely have to be on the ground with Burroughs, but the defensive front led by D’ante Parker (54 tackles, 8 TFL) and Jaylen Roberts (32 tackles, 10 TFL) and a solid linebacking corps anchored by Joseph Hicks (33 tackles, 6 TFL) hasn’t allowed much running room this season.
The Warriors have been able to stick to their run-first gameplan most of the season with Reeves leading the way with 477 yards and 11 TDs. When teams have keyed on Reeves, Hicks (429 yards, 8 TDs) and Jadon Grant (361 yards, 5 TDs) have made them pay, and Whale Branch has even used Henry Tome at quarterback to move Reeves into the slot and show a different look. That’s a wrinkle the Warriors might use more with their playoff lives on the line, and Tome’s big right leg could also become a factor in a close game.
JJ: Whale Branch 27, Johnsonville 23
WK: Whale Branch 35, Johnsonville 24
BL: Whale Branch 24, Johnsonville 17
May River (3-1) at North Augusta (4-1)
It has been 28 days since the May River Sharks played a football game. And now, nearly a month later, they’ll take the field again with their season on the line.
The Sharks will hit the road for the first round of the SCHSL 4A playoffs and face North Augusta, a team who has had several weeks off as well. It’s do-or-die for star quarterback Ahmad Green, who will look to keep his May River career going against the Yellowjackets.
It’s been a crazy and unprecedented season for every team, but even more so for the Sharks. They lost their game with Hilton Head after a Seahawk tested positive for COVID-19, and then the following week their clash with Orangeburg-Wilkinson was called off after an electrical failure shut out the Friday night lights. They couldn’t get a contest scheduled that next Friday, and now they’re off to North Augusta for their first game in four weeks.
The Yellowjackets have a formidable defensive group that has limited opponents to fewer than 12 points per game. It’ll be a tall task for a Shark offense that has not seen the field in a long time, but Green will certainly be prepared and hungry to prove himself against the best competition.
After a big disappointment against Beaufort that sunk their chances to claim the Region 7-4A title, Green and the May River offense will have to execute well all night long against a tough North Augusta unit led by dangerous linebacker Marriunti Boyd. The Sharks will also have to go up against one of their old friends. Former May River defensive coordinator Jason Hatcher is now coaching the Yellowjackets, and he’ll certainly have some inside knowledge about how that Shark offense is operated.
May River will need outstanding play from their veteran linemen in Moxon Zehr and Garrett Bonneville to give an opportunity for a dynamic rushing attack to move the football. But they’ll need to mix up their playcalling to beat the best defenses in 4A like the Yellowjackets. Steffin Gadson and Melvin Livermon have been reliable receivers this season and could be needed to make some big plays in this postseason run.
May River’s defense has some talent, but there are still many question marks that the Yellowjackets may be able to exploit in this matchup. An unproven Shark secondary will have to face their toughest test yet in junior quarterback Austin Harrell. He’s averaging 257 passing yards per game, and can throw an accurate ball, completing 62.8% of his passes this season. If his throws are on point Friday night, the Sharks could find themselves in some trouble especially with 6-foot-3 wideout Jordan Wilburn, who has the height to win one-on-one deep battles for the ball. It will take a tremendous effort from Steffin Gadson and Mike Sunkins to hold down a strong passing offense. Eli Hall is having a tremendous year and should be a major help for the Sharks everywhere from pass coverage to rushing the quarterback.
Neither team has played for at least three weeks, so it will come down to the squad that can shake off the rust the quickest and get back to playing their style of football. Green will be fired up and will look to make some big plays early on, but this North Augusta defense will certainly be prepared for May River’s star. The Sharks cannot make those offensive and special teams mistakes that we saw against Beaufort, and will have to dig in defensively to stop an incredibly talented passing attack. This one could go either way, and the team that can overcome their challenges the best will be the one that advances in these 4A playoffs.
JJ: May River 28, North Augusta 27
WK: North Augusta 24, May River 21
BL: May River 24, North Augusta 21
West Florence (5-2) at Beaufort (4-1)
Beaufort High coach Bryce Lybrand had a simple message for his team entering the Class 4A playoffs — “We have to be locked in.” There are no easy matchups in this season’s condensed playoff brackets, and that extends to at-large team West Florence, which finished third in the loaded Region 6-4A with losses to second-ranked North Myrtle Beach and No. 6 Myrtle Beach.
The Knights are a run-first team, relying on junior back Terry McKithen (761 yards, 6 TDs) and senior quarterback George Floyd (470 yards, 3 TDs) to lead the charge, but Floyd is an effective passer, completing about 55% of his throws for 710 yards with seven TDs and three interceptions. Tight end Dylan Snyder is his favorite target with 17 catches for 276 yards and four TDs.
It appears to be a favorable matchup for the Eagles, whose defensive line led by Eamon Smalls, Theo Washington, and Alvin Wilson has been dominant. Beaufort didn’t match up well up front against Carolina Forest, but this should be a more favorable draw, and the Eagles shouldn’t be gashed on the ground. Beaufort’s secondary has been banged up but is inching closer to full strength, and the Knights don’t have too many weapons to contain in the passing game.
The Eagles have been able to achieve offensive balance all season, matching the ground game led by Amariee Morris (425 yards, 8 TDs) and Jaylin Houseal (341 yards, 7 TDs) with the strong left arm of Tyler Haley (812 yards, 9 TDs, 3 INTs), but the Knights’ defense will present a challenge. Virginia Tech signee Nyke Johnson can lock down a receiver — he’ll likely draw Marcus Goodwater (250 yards, 3 TDs) or Kacy Fields (231 yards, 4 TDs) — and West Florence has a tough defensive front led by senior Semaj Johnson.
Beaufort may have to improvise on offense and break out some new wrinkles to find holes in the Knights’ defensive gameplan, and if the defense can come up with a couple of turnovers, it would greatly help the Eagles’ chances. This should be an even matchup, so one big play could turn the momentum and decide whose state championship dreams live another week.
JJ: Beaufort 24, West Florence 20
WK: Beaufort 34, West Florence 24
BL: Beaufort 35, West Florence 28
Lakewood (1-4) at Hilton Head High (2-1)
A season unlike any other for BJ Payne and the Seahawks is coming to an end. Hilton Head High will host Lakewood in a non-playoff consolation game Saturday night to cap off 2020. It’ll be a chance to turn around last week’s disappointment and send the seniors out on top.
Both squads have suffered the effects of long breaks due to COVID-19 situations. Hilton Head was sidelined for the last two weeks of October, forcing the team to lose region matchups with May River and Beaufort which effectively disqualified them from region contention. The Seahawks were back in action last week, but couldn’t shake off the rust in a 34-13 loss to Colleton County. Meanwhile, the Gators are coming off a two week hiatus of their own. We may see some sloppy football, but both teams would love to finish with a victory.
It was a tough night for the Hilton Head offense last Friday, as the Seahawks struggled to find their game from earlier on this season. But Sam Summa is going to be motivated as ever to finish his Seahawk football career on top. He’s always been a leader and a fighter ever since his days at John Paul II, and he’ll lay it all out there in this final chapter looking to close it out the right way. We could certainly see some trick plays up Payne’s sleeve in a game like this, and it’s likely that we see high-impact Jaylen Sneed and Jayden Gilliam with opportunities on offense as well. Trusty running back Lavarus Brown and receiver Evan Elliott will look to finish strong and build some momentum into next year, while wideout Adam Clark will look to cap off a spectacular senior season. Za’Quan White will provide for a tough test at middle linebacker, and Zayveon Wells is a difficult matchup to face at corner.
Hilton Head’s defense fell flat last Friday at Colleton, but they’ll have a chance to finish this year out the right way. They’ll look to return to their earlier form when they forced six turnovers against playoff-bound James Island. Jaylen Sneed will look to cap off his junior year with a solid performance, and Jayden Gilliam is hoping to put the exclamation point on a fantastic abbreviated season and take some mojo with him as he prepares for next year. After a week of game action under their belt, expect the defense to bounce back, especially against a Gator squad that averages just 16 points per game.
With Lakewood just coming out of quarantine and Hilton Head fresh off their first game back from their own hiatus, the Seahawks should have the advantage of dealing with less rust. But BJ Payne’s squad has a lot of work to do after a disappointing showing last week. His group should be fired up and ready to make a final statement. With Sam Summa hoping to end his career on top and several underclassmen looking to gain valuable experience going into next season, there’s still a ton on the line for the Seahawks. If they can shake off last week’s results and play up to their capabilities, they should walk out of this 2020 season winners.
JJ: Hilton Head High 20, Lakewood 14
WK: Hilton Head High 28, Lakewood 24
BL: Hilton Head High 24, Lakewood 13
JJ: 1-2 last week, 21-5 overall
WK: 2-1 last week, 22-4 overall
BL: 1-2 last week, 22-4 overall