Bruzza Pusha was handed the trophy, and promptly took off on a victory lap around Buccaneer Field, a beaming smile stretched across his face. Winning a state championship never gets old. They’ve been getting used to it now at Thomas Heyward, and it’s gotten sweeter every year.
It was a dominant performance from start to finish Saturday, as the Rebels rolled past Lee Academy 46-14 at Charleston Southern University to complete their third straight SCISA 1A championship season.
“It feels amazing,” said head coach Nic Shuford. “I wondered if it would feel as good as the first two, and it feels every bit as good.”
From the opening play of the game, it was clear that the Rebels had the faster step. Thomas Heyward’s defense put the heat on from the outset, and they wasted no time after the offense received the ball.
It was a total team effort, as four different Rebels scored touchdowns as THA scored on each of its first five possessions. An electric 64-yard run by Anthony Fripp was the catalyst, and Pusha took a zone-read 16 yards to the end zone thanks to a perfect job by Therion Cannon and
the offensive line. After a quick three-and-out, the Rebels struck again, as an impressive JR Patterson run was capped off by a Peyton Bennett quarterback sneak to make it a 12-0 game.
Lee Academy answered right back, as quarterback Keaton Price started to find some success on the ground, and then the Cavs pulled out some trickery. Running back Josh Kirven delivered a perfect ball to his receiver in the end zone to put Lee right back in it.
But that hope was extremely short-lived. After the Rebels lost a handful of yards on first down, Bennett loaded up and fired a strike to Pusha, setting THA up in the red zone. Then Ridgeland-Hardeeville transfer Brandon Howard took over, trucking a defender on his way to an impressive 5-yard touchdown run.
“I beat my man, and then there was another one waiting at the 1-yard line, and I just put my head down and got what I could get,” Howard said.
The Rebel defense then made two huge plays — an interception and then a Pusha stuff on fourth-and-1 to stave off a late-half rally. Patterson found the end zone twice to extend the lead before the break, his second coming after a Bennett dime to Preston Humbert, who finished his senior year on fire.
The Rebel defense went right back to work, with a pair of four-play-and-out defensive stops to start the second half. The pass rush was just too much to handle, and Price couldn’t find the time or accuracy to hook up with his receivers. Patterson then completed the hat trick, capping off his remarkable career with a three-touchdown game in the state championship to make it a 40-6 rout. Branden Davis closed the book with a senior memory of his own, running it past the goal line from four yards out after Zack Black nearly got in on a dazzling 24-yard catch and run. The Cavs put together a late score to stop the bleeding, but it was much too late, as Nic Shuford and the Rebels raised their arms in triumph for the third year in a row.
Patterson ended his career with a bang, rushing for 111 yards and three touchdowns. Fripp got the Rebels flying out of the gate, picking up 85 yards on the ground. Bennett was outstanding in every sense of the word. His growth and maturity at quarterback grew by leaps and bounds this senior year, and he finished it off throwing for 194 yards along with picking up a touchdown run.
“I just had to get stronger, faster, and most of all mentally prepared to know I was the guy,” Bennett said. “I had great coaches to help me along the way to get better, and it was just the right fit this year. It made Bruzza go out to receiver where he had a heck of a season, and it just all came together at the right time.”
Pusha was electric on both sides, catching four balls for 66 yards and making impacts on defense all night. Howard added a touchdown and was flying around on the defensive end, whether it was rushing the quarterback, stuffing the run, or playing fantastic pass coverage. Jeremy Clemmer, John Hewlett, and Pusha were major contributors to a shutdown defensive performance, allowing a completion percentage of less than 50 percent. The Rebel effort limited the Cavs to just 5-for-15 on third downs, and 0-for-5 on fourth.
Last year was a season of adjustments midway through, but this year was a romp through SCISA 1A from start to finish.
It’ll be a tough task to replace the senior talent of Bennett, Pusha, Patterson, and many others, but Shuford will certainly be up to the task. For now, it’s time for the Rebels to celebrate again, as this unstoppable Lowco dynasty can now check off yet another box: the three-peat is complete.
“We’ll get back to work in January in the weight room,” Shuford said, “and do everything we can to make it back.”
Written by Wes Kerr / Photos by Justin Jarrett