Gilbert was hoping the ball wouldn’t end up in Colton Phares’ hands on Friday night. It did, and it took just one moment of brilliance in the second half for the senior star to make his mark and propel Beaufort High to the state’s final four in Class 3A.
Phares put the Eagles ahead for good with an 89-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter before picking off a pass, and Kacy Fields added two touchdown runs to help Beaufort defeat the Indians 31-21 on Friday and advance to the SCHSL 3A Lower State championship game at Dillon. It’s the Eagles’ second consecutive appearance in a state semifinal in a pair of different classifications.
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“They played great,” Lybrand said. “They’ve been doing what they’ve done all year, which is just show up and fight. We’re going to practice on Thanksgiving, which is everybody’s goal at the start of the year.”
It was an ideal start for the Indians on the road, as Chad Leaphart’s squad made a stop and opened the scoring with a 10-play drive capped off by a 14-yard Alias Graham-Woodbury touchdown run. But the Eagles responded with their signature ground game and found the end zone on a powerful 6-yard burst from Fields to knot the contest at 7.
Beaufort picked up a key goal-line stop after a defensive pass interference call, forcing an incompletion on a fourth-down jump pass. Then sophomore Samari Bonds got to work, showing off his arm on a 45-yard dime to Thomas Purdy. But the Indian run defense tightened up to hold the home side to a 30-yard Jack Troutman field goal and a 10-7 lead at the break.
Gilbert raced back in front on a terrific play call to begin the second half, as Drake Braddock flipped the ball to Graham-Woodbury, who raced 66 yards to the end zone on the second play from scrimmage. But the Eagles got right back off the mat and advanced the ball inside the Gilbert 40 thanks to a steady dose of Fields and Bonds on the ground. Samari took over to finish the drive, gliding through an open seam for a swift 37-yard touchdown run.
The Indians took a much slower approach on their next series, orchestrating a methodical 19-play drive finished off by a 6-yard Jaden Allen-Hendrix scamper for a 21-17 advantage. The momentum was back on the visitors’ sideline, but it all was gone in an instant with some Colton Phares magic. The Eagle star evaded a swarm of Indian tacklers to break free for a highlight-reel 89-yard kickoff return to snatch the 24-21 lead.
Phares was pinned to the right sideline at the 32 with three Indians in close pursuit, retreated and fought off a double-leg takedown at the 31, then sprinted out of a pack of would-be tacklers, leaving everyone in his wake.
“I really didn’t think they would kick it to him,” Lybrand said. “He’s just such a great football player, and all the kids were blocking. That play is exactly what this team does all the time. They just don’t give up and they keep after it.”
But Phares wasn’t done. With the pressure mounting on Gilbert to make a play, the Eagle defense came up clutch yet again. Lamar Knight got his hand to a high Braddock pass, and Phares cleaned it up for the pick to send the Kirkland Krazies bonkers.
The Eagles only needed one first down to seal it with just over two minutes left, but Kacy had bigger plans. Fields saw some room on the left side and darted 35 yards to the end zone.
“We talk about playing to a standard, and they do that,” Lybrand said. “They play to the standard of Beaufort football.”
Fields kept his monster year going, turning 20 carries into 137 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Bonds rushed for 77 yards and a score on nine carries to go with 4-of-6 passing for 63 yards, and Caleb Ulmer tacked on 32 yards on six carries.
Allen-Hendrix led the Indians’ ground game, totaling 101 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries while Graham-Woodbury added 83 yards and a score on 23 attempts.
Beaufort (11-1) travels to Dillon on Friday for the SCHSL 3A Lower State title game. The Wildcats (13-0) are also in their second straight Lower State final after a 31-14 win over Camden on Friday, avenging last year’s defeat to the Bulldogs.
By Wes Kerr / Photo by Marc Reichel
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