HSFB: Get ready for kickoff with the LowcoSports Week 9 primer

With just two weeks remaining in the high school football regular season, virtually every game on the slate has some sort of playoff implications, and some of them are huge. We have one region title on the line in Week 9, and several more teams are trying to keep their hopes of clinching a region crown alive, while others are fighting for higher seeds and home playoff games.

We have nine games on the Lowco area slate after Battery Creek’s second straight game was canceled due to COVID-19 protocols, including the WSAV Blitz Game of the Week, in which Hilton Head Christian Academy will host Beaufort Academy with our own Wes Kerr on color commentary.

If you’re out at a game, keep the rest of the Lowco community in the loop with score updates on ScoreStream.com or tag us on Twitter at @LowcoSports. Now, let’s get ready for kickoff with the Week 9 primer.

Beaufort High (6-2, 2-1) at Bluffton (2-5, 1-2) 

After stumbling on their way to a third straight Region 7-4A crown, Beaufort High will look to bounce back and preserve the No. 2 spot in the region standings when they cross the Broad River to take on Bluffton.

Both teams are hoping to rebound from disappointing defeats a week ago, as the Eagles suffered their first region loss since 2019 in a 24-21 setback at home against May River, while the Bobcats dropped a defensive struggle 16-7 at Hilton Head High.

Beaufort is still in line for the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, provided the Eagles can take care of business against the Bobcats and Colleton County, and there’s no reason to believe Bryce Lybrand’s team won’t get back on track this week. The Bobcats are tough on the run and have some dynamic receivers, but they will have a tough time blocking Beaufort’s excellent defensive line. 

Bluffton quarterback Max Vonhohenstraeten left the Bridge Bowl with an injury in the second half, but he’s expected to play Friday. The Eagles will try to get pressure in the backfield to disrupt the Bobcats’ spread attack, and with Touchstone Energy Bowl pick Alvin Wilson alongside Eamon Smalls and Jack Sumner, Beaufort’s defensive front excels in that department. 

The Eagles’ offense might have a tougher time rebounding from an inconsistent performance a week ago, thanks to a stingy Bluffton defense. The Bobcats are strong in the front seven with defensive linemen DJ Aiken and Julian Suaza and linebackers JaQuinn Williams and Jeremiah Curry leading the charge. Beaufort is difficult to defend because running back Amariee Morris and quarterback Tyler Haley can both make plays with their legs, and Haley has a bevy of talented receivers to throw to when he has sufficient time.

Beaufort is the more talented and accomplished team, but the Eagles have been prone to self-inflicted mistakes at times, and if they give a hungry Bluffton team an opening, the Bobcats are capable of taking advantage at home. — Justin Jarrett


JJ: Beaufort High 27, Bluffton 7

WK: Beaufort High 31, Bluffton 14

Hilton Head (3-4, 2-1) at James Island (3-4, 1-2)

After a massive victory over their rivals across the bridge, the Hilton Head High Seahawks go into James Island with an outside shot to snatch a share of the Region 7-4A title. But before the Seahawks can look ahead to a potentially thrilling matchup with May River, they’ll have to earn a tough road win Friday at James Island. 

BJ Payne’s squad has won with its defense, shutting down a talented Bluffton passing attack in a 16-7 victory last week. After giving up 38 points to Beaufort, the Seahawks have allowed just one touchdown in each of their last two contests. Matthew Larkby and an emerging Hilton Head front seven will look to limit the ground game of Terio McKelvey, who’s coming off a 158-yard game at Colleton County. The Seahawks have been solid against the run in recent weeks, and should find a way to come up with some big stops after forcing seven turnovers in just the past two games.

After moving over from linebacker to quarterback, Jaylen Sneed has given his offense a major lift, igniting a stellar ground game along with fellow senior standout Chase McCracken. The one-two combination of Sneed’s strength and quickness alongside McCracken’s power wore down the Bobcats’ defense late and could give problems to a James Island group that was gashed by May River’s Garvin Douglas earlier this year. 

A solid running game can open up the long ball, and Sneed has been able to throw it accurately to senior playmaker Evan Elliott. James Island’s defense has only given up 19 total points over its past two games, but the impressive HHIHS run game with the help of an improving offensive line led by Ryan Clark should find the ‘Hawks a way to put together consistent scoring drives. 

The Seahawks can’t afford to look ahead to May River yet, but a solid and mistake-free effort from Sneed, McCracken, and a red-hot defense should carry Hilton Head to a road win and set up a massive regular-season finale next week at the Nest. — Wes Kerr


JJ: Hilton Head High 20, James Island 16

WK: Hilton Head High 21, James Island 17

Colleton County (0-3, 0-3) at May River (6-2, 3-0) 

The Sharks are riding high after ascending to the top of the Region 7-4A standings with a thrilling win at Beaufort High last week, and they’ll try to move a step closer to locking up the region crown when they host winless Colleton County on Friday in The Tank.

May River ran its winning streak to four games with a 24-21 victory over the two-time defending region champion Eagles last week, riding another huge game from quarterback Garvin Douglas and a terrific effort from a burgeoning defense to unseat the champs. Douglas has topped 200 rushing yards in three straight contests and is averaging a Lowco-best 172.9 yards per game on the ground, and he should continue his success against a Cougars defense that gave up 158 yards on 16 carries to James Island’s Terio McKelvey in last week’s 28-3 loss. 

The Cougars’ defense has been outstanding in the first half of its first three games, holding each opponent under seven points through two quarters, but Colleton’s conditioning has faltered late in games as the Cougars scramble to get in game shape after a delayed start to the season. If the defense can sustain its strong play for four quarters, Colleton will have a shot at the road upset, but that will be easier said than done against May River’s power rushing attack that wears down opponents.

Colleton’s secondary was torched in the second half against Bluffton, so the Sharks might try to mix in more of the passing game they have expanded on in recent weeks, especially with speedy slot receiver Fareed Abdullah back from injury, but they won’t need to if Douglas and running backs Jaeon Allen and Cam Scott can continue their strong running behind an undersized but determined offensive line.

The Sharks can clinch the region title with a win and a Hilton Head High loss, but regardless of either outcome, they’ll be in control of their fate next week and can lock up the No. 1 seed with a win over the Seahawks. — Justin Jarrett


JJ: May River 42, Colleton County 13

WK: May River 38, Colleton County 14 

Lake Marion (3-4, 0-3) at Ridgeland-Hardeeville (0-5, 0-3)

The Jaguars let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers last week, leaving this week’s home matchup with the Gators as their best shot at picking up a victory in 2021 and clinching a playoff spot. 

RHHS drove inside the 5 in the final minute of last week’s 34-26 loss at Burke, but quarterback Maurice Brown was stopped at the 2 on the penultimate play and an incomplete pass left the Jags two yards short of a shot to tie it with a two-point conversion.

Brown and the offense are coming off their best showing of the season, and they will need to replicate it or take it to another level to break through against a Lake Marion defense that has played well of late, playing competitive games with region powers Timberland and Woodland. The Gators held the undefeated Wolves to their second-lowest scoring output of the season in a 21-8 loss last week. 

The Jaguars’ defense is also moving in the right direction, and the improving unit has a chance for a breakout performance against a Lake Marion attack that is lacking in big-time playmakers. The Gators have averaged just 11.6 points over their past five contests, so if RHHS can put together sustained drives and keep its defense fresh, the Jaguars have a great chance to win a low-scoring game at home and punch their ticket to the playoffs. — Justin Jarrett


JJ: Lake Marion 27, Ridgeland-Hardeeville 22

WK: Lake Marion 28, Ridgeland-Hardeeville 20

Whale Branch (5-1) at Allendale-Fairfax (2-2) 

The Warriors decision to juggle their schedule to prioritize region games is paying dividends, as Whale Branch was able to schedule a second straight non-region tune-up before taking next week off to prepare for the postseason. 

Like last week’s trip to Estill, the Warriors should be able to take care of business with relative ease against the Tigers and do some fine-tuning ahead of what they hope to be a long playoff run. Whale Branch’s offense was in top form in last week’s 56-6 rout of the Gators, as Jakhi Pusha stepped in for injured quarterback Kai’Shawn Jenkins and put up big numbers, rushing for 88 yards and three TDs and completing 7 of 8 passes for 131 yards and two scores.

Jenkins is expected to be back under center Friday with Pusha back in place as his top receiving target, and the Warriors should continue their success running behind a strong offensive line anchored by Virginia Tech commit Xavier Chaplin. Star running back Joseph Hicks has shared more of the load in recent weeks to save his legs for the playoffs, but the Warriors have several backs who can help pick up the slack down the stretch.

Whale Branch’s defense struggled against the pass early in the season, but a secondary led by sophomores Kamron Holman and Keith Chisholm has been terrific of late, and the front seven featuring Chaplin in the trenches and Hicks and D’Ante Parker at linebacker is tough on the run.

One of the Tigers’ two victories was a narrow 18-16 win over Estill in their season opener. A-F is coming off a 47-20 drubbing at Branchville, and the Tigers’ defense isn’t equipped to stop Whale Branch’s powerful running attack. The Warriors should roll into the playoffs with a third straight win and an extra week of preparation for a first-round home game. — Justin Jarrett


JJ: Whale Branch 46, Allendale-Fairfax 12

WK: Whale Branch 40, Allendale-Fairfax 12

Beaufort Academy (4-2, 3-0) at Hilton Head Christian Academy (7-0, 3-0) (WK)

The last two unbeaten teams in SCISA Region 1-2A will square off Friday in Bluffton, as a determined Beaufort Academy looks to shock defending state champion Hilton Head Christian. 

Mark Clifford’s group will have its hands full with sensational senior quarterback Jace Blackshear as it aims for the upset on the road. Taking full reign under center this year, the HHCA standout has torched opposing defenses with his arm and his legs. This offense can score in so many different ways with the help of lightning-quick Speedy Robinson and an impressive set of receivers led by Jackson Lanier. 

For Beaufort Academy to pull off the upset, Jaxen Porter and a terrific trio of running backs must be able to control the tempo and move the chains. If BA can keep Blackshear off the field and create long, sustained scoring drives, the visitors can limit HHCA’s possessions and put some pressure on that high-flying offense. 

But Ron Peduzzi’s Junkyard Dog defense won’t give much away easily, averaging just over eight points allowed during its last five games. Expect the senior captain Lanier to lead the charge and make it difficult for a talented BA run game to move the football. Despite losing several key seniors to graduation, HHCA’s defensive front has continued to create havoc for its opponents and should win the battle at the point of attack.

It’s been an impressive year for Beaufort Academy in just its second year of 11-man football, but Clifford’s team will have to put together a near-flawless effort to take down an HHCA squad that is loaded on both sides of the ball. BA’s talented group of rushers could make things interesting, but Hilton Head Christian’s dynamic and explosive offense should eventually pull away in this region showdown. — Wes Kerr


JJ: Hilton Head Christian Academy 41, Beaufort Academy 20

WK: Hilton Head Christian Academy 35, Beaufort Academy 16 

Hilton Head Prep (6-2, 2-1) at John Paul II (2-4, 2-1)

The Dolphins dominated the Golden Warriors 38-16 in Week 0, but can they do it again when it counts toward the region standings? 

A lot has changed since that meeting nine weeks ago, most notably the presence of JPII star Mark Knight, who missed the non-region clash to start the season, and the growth of Golden Warriors quarterback Christian Tilton into an effective dual threat. 

HHP’s defense has put together an outstanding campaign, though, with linebacker Jake Rodney-Brown and fellow transfer Sean Graham leading the charge. The Dolphins have posted three shutouts and nearly had another in last week’s 62-6 rout of Northwood Academy, but they’ve had trouble stopping strong ground attacks against Thomas Heyward and Beaufort Academy. Tilton has been excellent in the run game, and his passing has improved in recent weeks — he’s 9-of-11 for 114 yards with four TDs and no interceptions in the past two games — and Knight and Jackson Ogden can break a big play at any moment.

JPII’s defense struggled to contain HHP star Loncelle Daley in the first matchup, so that will be the top priority for a front seven that has shown improvement against the run. Standout linebackers Peter Hughes and Michael Carbone will need to lead the charge in wrapping up Daley and preventing big gains, and the Golden Warriors are likely to load up to stop the run and force Tristan Bonomo to beat them through the air. 

Bonomo has also grown into the starting quarterback role as the season has progressed — he is 9-for-14 for 120 yards with four TDs and no interceptions in the past two contests — and AJ Barger has emerged as a viable receiver. The Dolphins will likely need that duo to connect for some key conversions to sweep the season series.

If the Dolphins can take down JPII for a second time, they’ll earn a shot at claiming at least a share of the region title at home next week against defending SCISA 2A champion Hilton Head Christian Academy, but the Golden Warriors have plenty of motivation, too. JPII could still play for a share of the region crown with a win and an HHCA loss to Beaufort Academy, who the Golden Warriors face in their regular-season finale.

This one is shaping up to be anyone’s game, and with so much on the line, it ought to be a slugfest that is well worth the price of admission. — Justin Jarrett


JJ: John Paul II 23, Hilton Head Prep 21

WK: Hilton Head Prep 24, John Paul II 21 

Thomas Heyward (7-1, 3-0) at Bethesda Academy (1-6, 1-2) 

The Rebels have rolled to five straight wins, and they should have little trouble extending the streak Friday when they travel to Savannah to face a Bethesda Academy team coming off its first win of the season.

Aside from a second-half letdown in a 29-22 overtime loss at Bluffton, THA’s defense has been tremendous all season, holding opponents to seven points or fewer in all seven wins. Linebacker Brandon Howard leads the dominant unit with plenty of help from defensive linemen Cameron VanGeison and Preston Hamilton and linebackers Zane Wilson and Brandon Smith, among others. The Rebels should have little trouble slowing down a Blazers’ offense that averages just 11 points per game. 

Bethesda is coming off its best offensive showing of the year, though, as senior running back Jerome Richey racked up 184 yards and 3 TDs on 14 carries in last week’s 26-20 win over Greenwood Christian. Sophomore quarterback Triston Randall continues to develop into a solid dual threat, as well, but his development might be put on hold this week against a ferocious THA pass rush. 

The Blazers’ defense has been gashed on the ground all season, and that’s a bad sign against a Rebels ground game that chews up opposing defenses. Anthony Fripp and Tony O’Banner are both capable of carrying a heavy load, and whoever the Rebels have plugged in at quarterback has been able to join in the rushing attack and do damage through the air with reliable receivers Cutter Williams and Cody Parker. 

This one should be little more than a tune-up for the Rebels, who are trying to get playoff-ready for a run at a fourth straight SCISA 1A title. — Justin Jarrett


JJ: Thomas Heyward 37, Bethesda Academy 6

WK: Thomas Heyward 38, Bethesda Academy 6

Colleton Prep (2-6, 1-2) at Greenwood Christian (2-6, 0-3) 

The War Hawks need to win one of their two remaining games to clinch a playoff spot, and with a tough home matchup with St. John’s Christian looming next week, now is the time for Greg Langdale’s squad.

Colleton Prep has endured a difficult schedule in recent weeks, beginning with a rivalry loss to Dorchester Academy and facing defending state champions Hilton Head Christian Academy (2A) and Thomas Heyward (1A) on either end of a blowout win over Bethesda Academy. Last week’s trip to Calhoun Academy was another tough test, and the War Hawks’ defense hung tough but couldn’t overcome four CPA turnovers in a 21-8 loss.

The War Hawks need to establish the run with quarterback Drew Murdaugh and versatile back Cole Davis, and they should be able to do so against a Hawks defense that had a difficult stopping a previously punchless Bethesda offense a week ago. CPA’s offense has had great success when the War Hawks can control the line of scrimmage, and that should be the case this week.

Greenwood Christian has some weapons on offense and has put up 20 points or more in six of eight games, but the defense has had difficultly stopping anyone, including struggling squads like Bethesda and Orangeburg Prep. The War Hawks should be able to grab a big road win to clinch their spot in the postseason and turn their focus toward a big matchup next Friday. — Justin Jarrett


JJ: Colleton Prep 39, Greenwood Christian 20

WK: Colleton Prep 34, Greenwood Christian 20


WK: 8-2 last week, 64-9 overall 

JJ: 8-2 last week, 57-16 overall

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