There’s a thin line between the good and great teams in high school football. Bryce Lybrand’s Beaufort Eagles have that extra gear that bridges the gap. They showed it twice in a row in the playoffs to overcome a pair of deficits and advance to the Lower State finals for the second year in a row. But to get back to the title bout, they’ll have to survive a physical and battle-tested Dillon team on the road Friday night, and the undefeated Wildcats have also proven to be on the right side of the divide.
It’s far from easy to string together victories in the playoffs, especially when having to come from behind in back-to-back weeks. But true champions emerge when they are thrown to the mat, and the Eagles have been at their best with their backs against the wall.
They found a way to fend off a pair of potent offensive units the last two weeks, outlasting Javion Martin and a high-flying Crestwood offense before shutting down a pair of stellar Gilbert running backs to make their way to the final four in Class 3A. Beaufort’s signature grit and nonstop motor on defense translates to all 11 men on the field, and they’ve always had someone in the right place at the right time to step up.
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Despite losing several key pieces of last year’s defense, the group is playing at an even higher level than a year ago. Carter Bowersox is a gamer in the heart of the defense at linebacker, and Will Codding has become a breakout star clogging up the run game. The Eagles were looking for more pieces to step up in the secondary, and brothers Lamar and Jamar Knight have risen to the challenge. And there’s been nobody more valuable than Colton Phares, who can be a game-wrecker on any snap. Whether it’s his tremendous hands and closing speed on defense or his otherworldly skill in the return game, there’s been nobody more locked in than the Appalachian State-bound senior.
Beaufort will face a Dillon squad on Friday night that has rolled through its 2022 schedule. The 13-0 Wildcats have vanquished some of the toughest opponents throughout the SCHSL landscape, including Hartsville early in the year before avenging last year’s defeat to Camden in the Lower State semifinal. Dillon possesses a two-headed monster at running back in Chris McCullum and Ty Martin, who both shined against the Bulldogs last week behind a talented Wildcat offensive line. And don’t sleep on freshman quarterback Josiah Oxendine’s ability to connect for big plays downfield. A quick stop early could be massive for a Beaufort defense that has started slowly in its last two contests.
The Eagles may have the two best pure athletes on the field in Phares and senior running back extraordinaire Kacy Fields. But the biggest burden may lie on the shoulders of Hart Cushman and a locked-in Eagle offensive line that has found a way to take command and wear the opponent down to open up those lightning-quick runs for Fields. But Anthony Grant and Elijah Fulhmore may be the toughest customers the Eagles have seen this season at defensive end and will need to be neutralized to keep Beaufort’s rushing attack clicking.
If the run game struggles, it may be up to sophomore quarterback Samari Bonds to make some plays himself. He’s begun to show his accuracy and touch downfield and will likely have to make some important throws throughout to keep control of the game. Sirmond McCallum is dangerous when he rushes the quarterback, making it vital for Bonds to make solid decisions and maybe improvise with his quick legs if he gets the chance.
Few venues in the state are tougher on visiting teams than Dillon Memorial Stadium, so the Eagles will need to be ready to go from kickoff against a high-energy Wildcat crowd. Dillon may be one of the most talented squads in the state on paper, but Beaufort may have something that means even more. That extra gear. When the lights are the brightest and the game is on the line, Lybrand’s Eagles find a way. It showed itself on the road at Myrtle Beach a year ago, and it showed itself again the last two weeks. If they can match that same intensity on the road in all three phases, it just takes one moment of brilliance to snatch the momentum, flip the script, and shock the state once again.
By Wes Kerr
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