HSFB 2022: Barger’s big day not enough for HHP vs. Lions

The stars were aligning for a Hilton Head Prep comeback Thursday afternoon, but Zayden and Zyere Edwards had other plans. 

The Edwards brothers took over down the stretch on both sides of the ball, powering St. Andrew’s to a 31-19 road victory over Hilton Head Prep to get in the win column for the first time this year and deny the Dolphins their first victory under coach Dustin Etheridge. 

The Lions got the offense rolling on their first drive of the afternoon, as quarterback Zayden Edwards hooked up with Cullen Conner on a 45-yard pass before Zayden scrambled into the end zone from 12 yards out. Hilton Head Prep had difficulties in the run game early as St. Andrew’s defensive tackle Hayward Pollard helped control the line of scrimmage. It looked like the Dolphins were going to convert a third-and-long pass to Will Henry Alford, but a big hit knocked the ball out and Conner recovered to set up a 38-yard Gordon Standing field goal. 

Etheridge’s squad was looking for a jolt to get his guys back in it, and his electric senior playmaker came up huge. AJ Barger made some magic happen on a dazzling punt return, breaking a tackle and outrunning a pack of Lions for an 80-yard touchdown to cut the Lion lead to 10-6. He delivered again on the very next play, diving and picking off a tipped Zayden Edwards pass, but St. Andrew’s tenacious defensive line responded with a third-down sack to sway the momentum again. 

Then, with the clock winding down in the second half, the Edwards connection struck on one of the greatest catches the Lowco has ever seen. With Barger disrupting his balance, Zyere Edwards snared the football with one hand as he fell to the ground and held on for a highlight-reel grab, pumping up the St.Andrew’s crowd and propelling the Lions to a 17-6 halftime lead.

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St. Andrew’s was threatening to run away with the ballgame, but Barger wasn’t letting any of that happen. The senior standout dove for his second interception before leading an impressive nine-play drive. Barger threw a strike to Gunnar Bonomo on fourth-and-4 to keep the drive moving before charging into the end zone himself from two yards out to close the deficit to 17-13. 

Suddenly, the Dolphins found the confidence and the belief that they could steal this one themselves. But the defense couldn’t make the big stop, as the dominant Lion run game helped the visitors march down the field and restore the two-score lead with a 7-yard Conner run. The odds were stacked against Hilton Head Prep with a 24-13 deficit, but the Dolphins were ready to battle. Wyatt Harmer completed two clutch fourth-down passes to Barger, including a 48-yard dime, and Loncelle Daley followed a block and stormed into the end zone for a 14-yard score. 

Hilton Head Prep needed a stop on the next series with just six minutes to play, but the Lions’ speed was too much to contain. Edwards finished it off with a dazzling 39-yard run, finding a seam on the sideline and zooming to the goal line before picking off a Harmer pass to seal the first victory of the season for St. Andrew’s.

Barger did it all for the Dolphins in the defeat, completing three of five passes for 25 yards, rushing for 32 yards on 11 carries with a score, and adding two catches for 60 yards. He was a difference-maker on defense and special teams too, making nine solo tackles, picking off two passes, and tacking on an 80-yard punt return touchdown. Harmer completed 4-of-10 passes for 95 yards with two interceptions, and Daley tallied 40 rushing yards on eight attempts.

Hilton Head Prep (0-3) travels to First Baptist on Friday for its SCISA 3A region opener.

By Wes Kerr

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