When Ron Peduzzi was handed the reins at Hilton Head Christian Academy, he took it to himself to bring this storied program back to glory. And in a year that nearly shut the Friday night lights out, he accomplished his mission.
Headlined by an unbeatable defensive effort, the Eagles soared past Carolina Academy 42-14 on Saturday at Charleston Southern University to capture the SCISA 2A state championship. After a stinging loss to Trinity Collegiate a year ago in the title game, the Eagles dominated from start to finish, completing a perfect 12-0 season and earning their first football championship since 2012.
“It was very special,” Peduzzi said. “This team was relentless when they needed to be on both sides of the ball, and I’m so proud of the effort. It was a great season, undefeated and state champions and just really happy.”
Like many games this year, it didn’t go that smoothly early on. A Carolina Academy defense that matched the Eagles by limiting an explosive Pee Dee Academy team to just 14 points was able to force a three-and-out on the opening drive. On the next possession, the Bobcats put pressure on the quarterback and took down JP Peduzzi for a sack.
But one big play put this aerial attack in high gear.
Peduzzi found Mr. Reliable Cameron Strickland on another beautiful sideline grab for 48 yards. Peduzzi and Jackson “Bulldog” Lanier were stopped on three straight goal-line plays, but on fourth down Jace Blackshear delivered, breaking a tackle to convert and find the end zone.
Another connection to Strickland on a clutch third and long throw from JP Peduzzi set them up at the 5, but an impressive Bobcat defensive front pulled off a goal-line stand, denying Peduzzi entry from the 1. But the Junkyard Dogs made up for it on the very next play, as William Newton pulled down running back George Wilder in the end zone for a safety.
Then it was Blackshear’s turn to captain the Express. An offensive pass interference call led to a second-and-28, but a completion to Isaiah Anderson and a Blackshear scamper moved the chains. Then, Blackshear made yet another clutch fourth-down play, as the junior dropped back and saw a gaping hole, bursting through to the Carolina 2 before punching it in on the next play.
The Bobcats were looking for any kind of response to close out the half, but a Lanier sack and JP Peduzzi interception completed a first-half shutout, and gave the Eagles a 16-point lead going into the locker room.
“I gotta give credit to my defensive line on that one,” Lanier said. “Our line flushed him out of the pocket, he gave me an easy one-on-one chance, and I always win that.”
The Junkyard Dogs were brimming with momentum at halftime and picked right up where they left off out of the break, as senior Troy Chisolm scooped up a Matthew Joye fumble. The Eagles were looking for some more cushion, and they found it in a spectacular play. On another fourth down, Blackshear hit Lanier on a flat route, and the Bulldog worked his magic, bouncing through a tackler in the open field and fending off a host of Bobcats as he willed himself to the pylon to convert another huge swing play and put his team up three scores.
Then, the senior superstar delivered the finishing blow. JP Peduzzi picked off Matthew Joye for the second time, and this time nobody could catch him. It was a dream 55-yard interception return for a touchdown that sealed the Eagles a state title.
“That was awesome,” JP Peduzzi said. “I got the chills running when I got past the 5-yard line. I looked to the first camera I saw and showboated a little.”
The younger Peduzzi wasn’t done, as he led his squad down the field again to cap off an unforgettable day with a 10-yard rushing touchdown. The Eagles coasted the rest of the way, and the Gatorade bath was on for Ron Peduzzi. After several triumphs in the 2000s at Hilton Head Prep, he’s back on top again for the first time since 2007.
After a shaky defensive performance in the first round of these playoffs, the Junkyard Dogs were phenomenal. They held a potent run game to less than four yards per carry and came up with three crucial turnovers, while holding Carolina Academy to just 2-for-12 on third down. Lanier and Chisolm were monsters at linebacker, and the duo of Kent Camp and Newton stuffed the Bobcat rushers all day.
In the final game of his outstanding career, JP Peduzzi threw for 138 yards, added a rushing touchdown, and led the defense with two interceptions including the massive pick-6. Blackshear picked up 57 yards on the ground plus two scores, and Strickland pulled in three catches for 94 yards. Lanier was a beast on both sides and had maybe his best game as an Eagle, picking up two touchdowns on offense and leading a defensive clinic to hold the Bobcats off the board in the first half.
After suffering an overtime heartbreaker last year to Trinity Collegiate and worrying they might lose a whole season in 2020, a resilient and determined Eagles team handled every challenge and obstacle, and when the dust settled, stood alone on Buccaneer Field state champions.
“We were in the [championship] last year which was an unbelievable game, but to come down and win this,” Ron Peduzzi said. “Believe me, our guys wanted it and it was a great day for Hilton Head Christian Academy.”
Written by Wes Kerr / Photos by Justin Jarrett