HSFB: LowcoSports Week 8 primer

Each season, there are games that are marked before the first whistle as matchups that are likely to prove pivotal, and every once in a while, the season follows the script. A couple of those showdowns we’ve eyed since August are on tap as part of a 10-game slate of high school football games across the Lowco in Week 8.

It begins Thursday night with a Lowco-on-Lowco clash in Hardeeville, where Hilton Head Christian Academy looks to stay unbeaten against an improving John Paul II team, and it rolls into Friday with a couple of epic Region 7-4A matchups.

Get ready for kickoff (x2) with the LowcoSports Week 8 primer.

Hilton Head Christian Academy (6-0, 2-0) at John Paul II (2-3, 2-0) 

Week 8 in the Lowco kicks off Thursday night in Hardeeville, as the John Paul II Golden Warriors host defending SCISA 2A state champion Hilton Head Christian Academy. It’s a tremendous opportunity for Chris Myers’ squad to make a strong statement in its push for a home playoff game as the season heads down the stretch.

John Paul II is coming in riding high after dominating Northwood Academy in a 56-0 shutout win. But the Golden Warriors will have no easy task this week against an unbeaten Hilton Head Christian Academy group that is looking ready for another title run. The return of the Junkyard Dog defense has made HHCA even more formidable, allowing just 7.25 points per game in the last four outings. 

Quarterback Christian Tilton is a budding star at JPII, and he will look to get the ball in the hands of proven senior playmaker Mark Knight and electric junior back Jackson Ogden. But Jackson Lanier and the Eagles have stymied their opponents at the line of scrimmage over the past few weeks, and Ron Peduzzi and Matt Smith’s new-look defensive line should take charge in this region battle. 

John Paul II’s defense has made major strides since the start of the year, but it may not be enough to slow down the Eagles’ star-studded lineup. Jace Blackshear has opened both of the past two games with touchdown runs of 60+ yards, and don’t be surprised if he breaks another long one Friday night. He complements his dazzling moves on the ground with a stellar passing game, finding Riley Shinn, Isaiah Anderson, and the extraordinary Speedy Robinson for big plays down the field. Michael Carbone, Kohl Woodham, and Sebastian Slusne have delivered on the defensive side for the Golden Warriors, but it will be a tall task to hold down an Eagle attack that can beat you in so many different ways.

For JPII to pull off the shocker, the offense must find a way to control the clock and try to keep Blackshear and company off the field as much as possible. If the Golden Warriors can find a way to move the chains consistently, they can minimize the possessions in the ballgame and look to come up with the big turnover on defense. Tilton and the JPII offense have shown some tremendous potential, but it’s hard to see this group keeping pace with the high-octane Eagles for 48 minutes. — Wes Kerr


JJ: Hilton Head Christian Academy 41, John Paul II 14

WK: Hilton Head Christian Academy 46, John Paul II 20 

May River (5-2, 2-0) at Beaufort High (6-1, 2-0) 

The showdown we circled before the season appears poised to live up to the preemptive hype when the two-time defending region champion Eagles host the Sharks in a cross-county clash that is likely to decide the Region 7-4A title. 

Beaufort held strong at No. 7 in the Class 4A rankings in this week’s S.C. Prep Football Media Poll after grinding out a 16-0 win at James Island last week, and the Eagles should have star running back Amariee Morris back from an ankle injury to boost an offense that settled for Joe Caprarola three field goals to cap promising drives against the Trojans. 

The Sharks are knocking on the door of the top 10 after winning three straight, including a 30-3 victory at rival Bluffton a week ago in which their powerful ground game continued to thrive. Quarterback Garvin Douglas topped 200 rushing yards for the second straight week and upped his season average to a Lowco-best 167.1 yards per game on the ground. 

Douglas will have to navigate a dominant Beaufort defense that is especially strong up front. Eamon Smalls (38 tackles, 12 TFL, 2 sacks), Alvin Wilson (38 tackles, 14 TFL, 3.5 sacks), and Jack Sumner (24 tackles, 7 TFL, 4.5 sacks) lead a fearsome defensive line that will present a major challenge for May River’s excellent offensive line, so the Sharks might need to go to the air more often than they would prefer.

May River’s defense has shown steady improvement, and the emergence of converted running back Jaiden Jones as a pass rushing threat has accelerated that growth. Jones has racked up 23 tackles, two tackles for loss, and seven sacks during the Sharks’ three-game win streak, leading a unit that sacked Bluffton’s Max Vonhohenstraeten eight times last week. 

The Eagles will take their shots downfield with Zyrin Odom and Kacy Fields, but if May River’s pass rush continues its recent success, it will be key for Beaufort quarterback Tyler Haley to beat the pass rush with quick passes to Fields and McLeod Reichel and dump-offs to Morris and tight end Michael Dennison.

Beaufort should have an edge on the line of scrimmage, but the Eagles have been inconsistent on kick coverage at times and turnover-prone at others. The Sharks are scrappy — and motivated by last year’s 35-14 home loss to the Eagles — so they will be eager to pounce on any opportunities to silence the home crowd. With two outstanding senior quarterbacks going head-to-head with terrific defenses, the chill of fall in the air, and a region title on the line, this one has a chance to be the game of the year in the Lowco. — Justin Jarrett


JJ: Beaufort High 24, May River 21

WK: Beaufort High 31, May River 27 

Bluffton (2-4, 1-1) at Hilton Head High (2-4, 1-1) 

The Bridge Bowl is back on Hilton Head Island, and it’s shaping up to be one of the most competitive editions in recent years. After a pair of 1-1 region starts, the Hilton Head High Seahawks and Bluffton Bobcats will look to secure a postseason berth and cement a spot in the top half of the Region 7-4A hierarchy at the expense of a major rival. 

The Bobcats were pounded by their crosstown rivals a week ago, as the May River Shark defense feasted in the backfield for eight sacks. But Max Vonhohenstraeten and an explosive Bobcat passing offense has the firepower to light it up quickly on Friday night. He may not see as much of Notre Dame commit Jaylen Sneed on that side of the ball, but Matthew Larkby and Chris Marable have anchored a Seahawk front seven that forced three fumbles a week ago. The jury is still out on BJ Payne’s pass defense, a group that struggled to hold down Colleton County through the air. Bluffton’s offense has become a pass-first attack with a quartet of receivers that can fly down the field. If Vonhohenstraeten can find his groove early and hook up with Jaylin Linder, KJ Frazier, and an emerging group of wideouts, the visitors can quickly take control of the ballgame. 

Poona Ford made his stamp on this rivalry back in 2013, and Sneed should do the same for the Seahawks. His action was limited last week as Raleigh transfer Owen Bayes was given the start at quarterback, but we expect to see lots more of Sneed this time around with Bayes filling in on pass-heavy drives. Sneed’s ability to burst down the field at a moment’s notice will be a steep challenge for a Bobcat defense that was gashed by Garvin Douglas to the tune of 237 yards. But Bluffton’s line should have a more favorable matchup in the trenches this time around, and the Bobcats’ impressive linebacking tandem of Jeremiah Curry and Ja’Quinn Williams have big-play potential to make that key fourth-down stop or forced turnover happen. We should see a lot more work from Sneed in this one, but Chase McCracken will be a major factor on the ground again after a remarkable 187-yard performance running behind Ryan Clark and an improving offensive line against the Cougars. 

This one is as evenly matched as it gets, and we could be set up for another classic in this storied Lowco rivalry. The result may rest in the effectiveness of the Bluffton passing game. If Hilton Head High can put pressure on Vonhohenstraeten and hurry the junior’s time in the pocket, we could see more of the same Bobcat struggles this week. But Mad Max can catch fire quickly, and this offense has the talent to put up points in bunches. 

The Seahawk fans should be out in full force at their new turf field, and that can certainly be the difference in a tight matchup. With exceptional talent on both sides and massive playoff implications on the line, we should be treated to another classic Bridge Bowl showdown. — Wes Kerr


JJ: Hilton Head High 28, Bluffton 27

WK: Hilton Head High 35, Bluffton 34 

James Island (2-4, 0-2) at Colleton County (0-2, 0-2) 

A playoff spot will hang in the balance when the Cougars host the Trojans in a matchup of teams looking for their first region win. Five of the six teams in Region 7-4A will make the playoffs this season, so the winner will essentially clinch a postseason berth — barring a wild three-way tie for two spots. 

These teams met every season from 2002-11 and twice more in 2014 and 2015 before renewing their rivalry as region opponents last season. James Island captured a 28-13 victory at home last year for its fifth win in the last six meetings. 

The Cougars have played well in the first half of each of their first two games, taking a 24-6 halftime lead over Bluffton and trailing Hilton Head High just 7-0 at the break. Getting a late start to the season certainly hasn’t helped, so Kris Howell’s team should be getting stronger every game from here on out. 

Colleton County certainly has the playmakers on offense to find success, as quarterback Jackie White and versatile back Treveion Magwood are a dynamic duo that can do damage on the ground and through the air. James Island’s defense did a great job of bending but not breaking in a 16-0 loss to Beaufort High last week, but the Trojans did allow more than 100 rushing yards to backup Caleb Ulmer after getting gashed on the ground in a 35-18 loss to May River. The Cougars should be able to get the ground game going and pick their spots for some passing plays downfield. 

The Cougars’ will need to play sound defense and wrap up against a James Island offense that hasn’t put up a ton of points but is quite capable. Sophomore quarterback Braxton Scott is growing into the role and has help from senior back Terio McKelvey and sophomore receiver Wushi Ravenel. 

The home-field advantage could be a big benefit for the Cougars if they can keep this game close in the fourth quarter, and if they avoid the self-inflicted mistakes that come with a late start to the season, they’ll have a chance to punch their ticket to the playoffs. — Justin Jarrett


JJ: James Island 27, Colleton County 20

WK: James Island 28, Colleton County 14 

Ridgeland-Hardeeville (0-4, 0-2) at Burke (1-4, 0-2)

Despite lopsided scores in their first two Region 6-2A contests, Ridgeland-Hardeeville coach Rodney Barr believes his team is getting better, and if they’re going to put it all together, this would be a great week to do it. The Jaguars hit the road for a trip to Burke in what represents their best shot at picking up their first win since 2019 and punching a ticket to the Class 2A playoffs. 

Both teams have had the misfortune of opening region play with two of the top three teams in the projected standings, and the results have reflected that fact. After opening with a 43-0 loss at Timberland, the Jaguars were routed 57-6 at Woodland last week, while the Bulldogs have been outscored 98-0 by Philip Simmons and Timberland in their first two region contests.

Sophomore quarterback Maurice Brown has benefited from the Jaguars getting back on the field — though he certainly could have used the extra non-region games RHHS lost to COVID-19 protocols — and running backs Jayven Grant and Xavier Plowdeniz have shown promise, so the Jags should have success against a Burke defense that has surrendered 38.4 points per game.

The RHHS defense would benefit from the offense being able to stay on the field, and the fresh legs would come in handy in the fourth quarter of a close game. Barr’s mantra is “keep chopping,” and it’s time for the Jaguars to fell an opponent on Friday. — Justin Jarrett


JJ: Ridgeland-Hardeeville 26, Burke 20

WK: Ridgeland-Hardeeville 30, Burke 26 

Whale Branch (4-1) at Estill (2-4)

With the No. 2 seed and a home playoff game already locked up, the Whale Branch Warriors will now set their focus on tuning up for the dance in November. They’ll make the trip to Estill on Friday night for the first of two straight non-region games on the schedule. 

It’s been the Joseph Hicks show on the ground this season in Seabrook, and the senior superstar will look to return to his prominent role this week after back soreness limited his usage against Cross. An explosive back with the speed to outrun defenders and the strength to break tackles, Hicks has recorded an eye-popping 12.1 yards per carry and 150.4 yards per game. If he’s at full strength on Friday, he should be dominant against a shaky Fighting Gator run defense. Kai’Shawn Jenkins has excelled under center, delivering accurate passes to veteran wideout Jakai Pusha and go-to target Keith Chisolm.

The Warriors’ defense has been inconsistent so far this year, but Jerry Hatcher has done a fantastic job building talent once again at all levels. D’Ante Parker leads the way on the defensive, but Bradford Thompson and emerging freshman Alonzo Allen have also been making plays in the backfield. With Hicks anchoring the unit at linebacker and lockdown corner Kamron Holman already with three interceptions on the season, this unit should dominate an Estill offense averaging just 18 points per game. 

It’s a great opportunity for the Warriors to fine-tune and get ready for what could be a deep playoff run for a team with extra motivation. After a tough game to Baptist Hill that got away three weeks ago, Hicks, Jenkins, and their teammates know that they’ll need to deliver their best effort every night on the field. If the execution is solid on both sides of the ball, the Warriors should run away with this one and start to build some momentum towards a big postseason ahead. — Wes Kerr


JJ: Whale Branch 33, Estill 14

WK: Whale Branch 35, Estill 16 

Orangeburg Prep (1-4, 0-3) at Beaufort Academy (3-2, 2-0) 

For the first time since Week 3, Beaufort Academy will play in the friendly confines of Merritt 

Field on Friday when the Eagles welcome Orangeburg Prep for the first of three straight region games to finish the regular season. 

Orangeburg Prep comes rolling into Lady’s Island on the heels of a shutout loss to Hilton Head Prep last week. Beaufort Academy is also coming off a rough loss on the road at Thomas Sumter, where a bad start plagued the Eagles in a 47-13 non-region defeat.

While last week did not go as planned for the Eagles, all is definitely not lost. Both of BA’s losses came outside the region, and a win Friday would ensure the Eagles remain tied atop the standings going into next week’s showdown with Hilton Head Christian Academy. 

Cody Dalrymple and Devonte Green are expected to make their returns to the field to bolster the Eagle rushing attack. Jaxen Porter will welcome those two back with open arms to help lift some of the weight off of his shoulders. He picked up 161 yards on 15 carries last week, including a 49-yard touchdown run on a night where the offense was rarely on the field. 

The BA defense will also get a boost from the return of Dalrymple and Green after surrendering 47 points to a solid Generals offense. The Indians’ offense took a hit last week after senior quarterback McCullough Mims went down with a broken leg in the shutout loss. If the BA defense can rebound from last week and get back to playing like they were in prior weeks, points will be difficult to come by for the OP offense.

A BA win will put them at 3-0 in the region going into a huge matchup with HHCA. Between an already struggling Indians team that is now without its starting QB and the Eagles getting two huge pieces back on the field, BA should be able to get back on track. Eagles coach Mark Clifford put last week’s loss on himself for not preparing his team properly, so you know the coaching legend will not allow it to happen again. — Eric Ellison


JJ: Beaufort Academy 33, Orangeburg Prep 6

WK: Beaufort Academy 34, Orangeburg Prep 8 

Northwood Academy (0-5, 0-3) at Hilton Head Prep (5-2, 1-1)

After a tremendous win at Orangeburg Prep last week in shutout fashion, Hilton Head Prep is back home in Sea Pines on Friday with a chance to clinch a spot in the SCISA 2A playoffs. The Dolphins should wrap it up quickly, as winless Northwood Academy comes in for a matinee contest.

Jake Rodney-Brown has done it all for the Dolphins this year, excelling as a fullback on offense but most importantly leading an impressive defensive unit. He’s elevated the entire group around him, and he should dominate on the field against a sputtering Charger offense. Nic Rose leads a standout defensive line, and the duo of AJ Barger and Sean Graham has bolstered a fledgling secondary. The Dolphins will get a key component of the line back this week, as sophomore Danny Fernandez returns to provide a hard-working presence on both sides. 

It should be all systems go for Loncelle Daley, who has rolled up 829 rushing yards this season. The Chargers have allowed more than 44 points per game this season, giving Dave Adams’ team the opportunity to surge ahead early and rest its top talent for the weeks ahead.

It should be a fun afternoon in Sea Pines as the Dolphins look to pick up their sixth win of the season. It’s also a chance to build even more momentum going into a fascinating rematch next week at John Paul II in a potential battle for playoff seeding. — Wes Kerr


JJ: Hilton Head Prep 34, Northwood Academy 0

WK: Hilton Head Prep 38, Northwood Academy 0 

St. John’s Christian (5-1, 2-0) at Thomas Heyward (6-1, 2-0) 

Another preseason narrative has played out as expected in SCISA Region 1-1A, as three-time defending SCISA 1A champion Thomas Heyward faces the biggest challenge to its throne during the regular season when the Rebels host St. John’s Christian on Friday. The clash figures to decide the region title, and it might be a preview of the state championship game next month at Charleston Southern. 

The Rebels have rolled through the SCISA competition this season, with their only setback an OT loss at Class 4A Bluffton, but this will likely represent their toughest test yet against private school competition. The Cavaliers have won four straight since a season-opening 42-33 loss to Beaufort Academy, and last week’s 22-18 win over previously-unbeaten Calhoun Academy was the most impressive yet. 

Nonetheless, Thomas Heyward should have a significant edge in the trenches, which will help the Rebels establish the run with the dynamic backfield duo of Anthony Fripp and Tony O’Banner. The offense hasn’t dropped off since losing quarterback Dietrich Shuford to a season-ending knee injury, but the Rebels could be down to their No. 3 QB on Friday after two-way star Brandon Howard took a painful shot to the ribs in last week’s win over Colleton Prep. Howard is expected to play, but he might be limited to defense, which is where the Rebels most need his leadership.

Howard is the anchor of a dominant defense, as his reliability at linebacker allows THA’s defensive front to play aggressively and wreak havoc in the backfield. The Rebels’ secondary had some difficulty with Bluffton’s spread attack in the second half, but stopping the run has not been a concern, and THA’s ability to control the line of scrimmage should be the difference. — Justin Jarrett


JJ: Thomas Heyward 27, St. John’s Christian 14

WK: Thomas Heyward 30, St. John’s Christian 12

Colleton Prep (2-5) at Calhoun Academy (5-1) 

With two critical region games looming to finish the season, Colleton Prep makes a trip to Calhoun Academy for its final non-region tune-up Friday night. 

The War Hawks are looking to bounce back from a 32-7 loss to perennial SCISA 1A champion Thomas Heyward, and they had plenty of positives to build on against the Rebels. CPA’s scrappy defense kept it close for much of the night, and they won’t see another offense as explosive as THA’s. 

The Cavaliers are having a fine season, though, winning five straight to open the campaign before falling 22-18 at St. John’s Christian last week. The win streak included a 27-23 home triumph over a strong Dorchester Academy squad that beat the War Hawks 25-6, so CPA understands what it is up against.

Calhoun’s offense is led by quarterback Matt Layton, a senior leader who has rolled up a team-high 760 yards and 12 TDs on the ground along with 428 passing yards with a TD and two interceptions. Running backs Cade Strickland and Andrew Tucker each average more than 6.5 yards per carry, and Strickland is also a threat in the passing game, so CPA’s defense led by Noah Catterton, Gus Warren, and Walker Nettles will need to stay on its assignments and play disciplined football.

Colleton Prep’s offense has been a bit inconsistent, but if the line can do the job up front and create holes, quarterback Drew Murdaugh and versatile back Cole Davis can do damage. And if the offense can extend drives and keep the defense fresh, the War Hawks will have a shot to pull off an impressive road win that gives them momentum going into the home stretch. — Justin Jarrett


JJ: Calhoun Academy 27, Colleton Prep 20

WK: Calhoun Academy 21, Colleton Prep 14


WK: 9-1 last week, 56-7 overall

JJ: 9-1 last week, 49-14 overall

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