It seems like we were just talking about whether there would be a football season, and *just like that* only two teams were left among the area’s SCISA programs, both with hopes of extending their campaigns to the final week.
This is not new territory for Thomas Heyward Academy or Hilton Head Christian Academy, both of whom played for state titles a year ago, leaving with distinctly different feelings. The Rebels will try to return for a shot at a third-straight SCISA 1A title when they host Dillon Christian tonight, while the Eagles want to earn a shot at redemption after losing an overtime heartbreaker in last year’s SCISA 2A final.
The road to Charleston Southern runs through the Lowco tonight. Here’s your primer for two semifinal showdowns.
Spartanburg Christian (7-1) at Hilton Head Christian (10-0), 7 p.m.
It’s been an amazing run for the Hilton Head Christian Academy Eagles on their island campus, but Friday night will be the end of an era. The Eagles will take to their home field for the final time as they eye their second straight berth in the SCISA 2A state championship game.
But standing in their way is a high-flying Eagle squad of their own from Pee Dee Academy. They’ve been on the doorstep of a title for years back in 1A, and now they’re looking to go all the way in 2A. With two offenses that can sling the football down the field, Friday night could end up being a scoring bonanza.
Last week was no easy romp for HHCA. They were in a back-and-forth shootout with fourth-seeded Spartanburg Christian before the defense turned it on in the second half. They cannot afford to get in any type of hole this time against a red-hot Pee Dee passing attack. Sophomore QB Hudson Spivey leads the league with 1,699 passing yards and 20 touchdowns and is coming off a tremendous 291-yard game against Beaufort Academy, picking apart a very impressive Mark Clifford-led defense.
There have been some concerns with the Hilton Head Christian unit after giving up 27 points in a single half of football to a 2-7 team. After allowing a pair of 100-yard rushers last week, they’ll have to go against the scary Coleby Sinclair, who broke the 200-yard mark against BA. Spivey’s favorite target is Caleb Oakley, who leads SCISA with 994 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.
This flaming-hot Pee Dee group can hurt you all the way around, and it’s going to take Jackson Lanier and Troy Chisolm’s best efforts to lead the Junkyard Dogs as they face their toughest assignment yet. If Kent Camp and Liam Sirgo can create some penetration on the line, it would be enormous against this explosive offense.
Cameron Strickland has made big plays every week, including a kickoff return to the house last time out. The senior will look to write another chapter in a season to remember, and will be battling every play at defensive back against a lethal passing attack. And we could see offensive superstars Jace Blackshear and JP Peduzzi get more time in the secondary, which will provide a boost to a group that needs to shine against Spivey and a determined Pee Dee squad.
The HHCA offense has been breathtaking to watch again this season, and despite not having a 50-touchdown passer at their disposal, this HHCA attack may be better than ever. The combination of Blackshear and Peduzzi has been unbeatable, and the duo should continue to light up the scoreboard in this semifinal matchup. Each quarterback has gotten time under center, but Blackshear has been more effective in the past few weeks. He’s rushed for seven touchdowns in just two games and thrown for four more in that span.
Blackshear’s escapability and explosiveness is unmatched, and his dual-threat potential on every snap makes the junior a nightmare to shut down. But Peduzzi’s arm has been outstanding as well, and there’s been no stopping that deep pass to Blackshear all season long. It’s a win-win situation no matter who’s at quarterback, and as long as both are on the field, it’s a near-impossible task to hold down this squad. Isaiah Anderson and Riley Shinn have made some key contributions catching the football, and Strickland is a tall task to stop whenever the ball gets in his hands.
Free safety Ryan Forney and defensive lineman Gabe Estes bring some strong talent to the Pee Dee defense, but it’ll take something special to stop HHCA’s athletes and all the options they present on the offensive side.
We’re expecting a heavyweight shootout between two high-octane offenses. It’ll come down to which defensive side can withstand their opponents’ lethal weapons. This was surely looking like the state championship game, but a loss to Carolina Academy brought Pee Dee down to Hilton Head for this semifinal. Despite limited capacity, the HHCA fans have been bringing amazing energy, and they’ll come out in full force for the very last time, hoping to witness a memorable night to close the book on a field where the Eagles have made memories for generations. If the Junkyard Dogs can build off the momentum from last week’s second half and stymie Spivey and company early, Hilton Head Chrstian Academy should ride Blackshear and Peduzzi to a victory and a chance for redemption next week in Charleston. — Wes Kerr
JJ: Hilton Head Christian 55, Pee Dee Academy 40
WK: Hilton Head Christian 49, Pee Dee Academy 35
Dillon Christian (6-2) at Thomas Heyward (10-1), 7:30 p.m.
There hasn’t been much drama involved in Thomas Heyward’s last few wins — five straight blowouts that were over by haftime — but the Rebels’ 10-game winning streak should face a bit tougher test in the SCISA 1A semifinals against visiting Dillon Christian.
The Rebels scored on their first three offensive plays — with a punt return TD in between — and scored 32 points before Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach recorded a *tackle* in last week’s 70-8 win. They’ll face much more resistance from the Warriors, but it’s still a tough task to slow down JR Patterson and Anthony Fripp running behind a dominant offensive line, and even if Dillon can do so, Peyton Bennett and Bruzza Pusha have been a lethal connection through the air.
Dillon’s secondary has been strong, though, as seven different players have combined for 14 interceptions, and the trio of Cooper Lane, Colby Thorndyke, and Gabe Bissell has wrought havoc in opposing backfields. It will be a good challenge for a Rebels’ offensive line that hasn’t met its match often this season.
The Warriors lost to St. John’s Christian — a team the Rebels routed 40-6 last month — but that was in Week 2, and Dillon has been on a tear recently. In three straight wins, the Warriors have averaged 48.7 points, and they’re coming off a 40-28 victory over Bethesda Academy, last year’s state runner-up to THA.
Junior Cameron Sweat is a pass-first quarterback, but he can do damage with his legs, and fellow juniors Hayden Hickman (576 yards, 7 TDs) and Thorndyke (393 yards, 8 TDs) had big games against Bethesda. Senior receiver Adam Norman (431 yards, 8 TDs) is a big-play threat, so THA’s secondary will need to keep tabs on him and make someone else beat them.
If THA’s defense continues to play the way it has, it will be tough for the Warriors to find running room or give Sweat time to throw. Defensive lineman John Hampton Hewlett (26 TFL, 11 sacks) and linebacker Brandon Howard (12 TFL, 3 sacks) have been nightmares for opposing QBs, and Therion Cannon has played more nose tackle to help clog up the middle against strong running teams.
The Rebels will have to work harder for this one than their past few wins, but they shouldn’t have any trouble returning to the championship game for a shot at a three-peat. — Justin Jarrett
JJ: Thomas Heyward 42, Dillon Christian 14
WK: Thomas Heyward 48, Dillon Christian 20
JJ: 4-0 last week, 34-6-1 overall
WK: 3-1 last week, 33-7-1 overall
Photo by Brooke Simons