Hilton Head Christian, Thomas Heyward meet for state football title

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High School Football

Hilton Head Christian, Thomas Heyward meet for state football title

HHCA has controlled the rivalry in recent years
By CHRIS COX
ccox@islandpacket.com
Published Saturday, November 17, 2012   |  1615 Words  |  

Hilton Head Christian was clinging to a 28-27 lead at rain-soaked Thomas Heyward and the Eagles were forced to punt. All Tommy Lewis' team needed was one first down to run out the clock and preserve a win, but instead the Eagles were pinning their hopes on one final defensive stop.

Out came backup punter Marcus Taylor to boot it away with his coaches screaming from the sideline, "Kick it right!," urging the punter to avoid the Rebels' vaunted return man. Taylor nodded, pointing his finger to the right side of the field.

Taylor fielded the snap and instead took off running.

"I couldn't believe it," Lewis says now. "I was like, 'Oh my goodness, he thought we said fake punt it."

Taylor got the first down and the Eagles ran out the clock.

"It was one of those incredible plays where you're like, 'No! No!' and then, 'Yeah! Yeah!' "

That game was six years ago, and yet, Lewis seems to recall every single detail. It's the type of series the Eagles and Rebels have grown accustomed to playing, as late-game thrillers seem to be the norm now.

"When someone starts talking about them and bringing them up, they all come back as very vivid memories," Lewis said. "... All the memories come flooding back."

Lewis remembers the bad ones, too, like the 34-8 trouncing in 2007, but it's usually been his Eagles coming out on the positive end. Hilton Head Christian has won five consecutive in the series and eight of the past nine overall, including a 20-13 show-stopper earlier this year that helped the Eagles bring Thomas Heyward's undefeated season to a screeching halt.

"It's always a heated, but healthy rivalry," Lewis said. "I think definitely it brings out the best in both schools and both teams. We've just been real fortunate over the past few years."

The biggest one has yet to be played, however. That one comes this afternoon, when the two schools duke it out for the second time this season at Benedict College's Charlie W. Johnson Stadium in the SCISAA Class 2-A state championship.

"This is no question our biggest game with them," Lewis said. "It's very much at the forefront of their minds that they haven't beaten us in the last four or five tries. They're looking forward to snapping that streak and of course we're trying to extend it."

The Eagles have been here before. Today marks their sixth apperance in SCISAA's finale in the last seven years, and Hilton Head Christian will be seeking its fourth crown in that span. A win also would represent the first time in program history that the Eagles have captured consecutive titles.

"Everybody fully understands what's at stake and that Thomas Heyward is going to come with their best shot," Lewis said. "We need to come with our own best shot."

Hilton Head Christian will look to stop the players who make the Rebels' offense go, quarterback J.D. Tuten and tailback Ryan Day. Tuten was bothered by injuries in the last meeting, but still managed to come back and lead the Rebels on a potential game-tying drive on their last possession, while Day rushed for more than 200 yards in the loss.

"I really think that they're the favorite team," Lewis said Friday. "They came into the preseason ranked No. 1. They were rolling through their season. One of the guys that makes their team click was injured. You've got to believe if ... they're healthy that they're back to being favorites."

His team for the most part is healthy too, though. Tailback Tyler Chisholm returned to the lineup for the first time in three weeks against Florence Christian, and rebounded from his bruised clavicle by rushing for more than 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

He'll need to be at his best for the Eagles to win again.

"Every week since week one, Aug. 15 (we've wanted to get here)," Chisholm said. "We've been telling each other since sophomore year since we lost (at state) how that felt and stuff. We don't want that to ever happen again."

Chisholm may be the key this time around. In each of the past three meetings with the Rebels, the senior has rushed for more than 100 yards and the Eagles have won all three times. He joins a Hilton Head Christian offense that has averaged 41 points over its last four games.

"We're clicking," tailback Brad Meccariello said. "I believe we are. It took awhile, but again, we have young guys that came and stepped in. It takes awhile for them to learn that terminology ... I think we clicked at the beginning of the playoffs. It's the right time right now."

Thomas Heyward (12-1) vs. Hilton Head Christian (11-1)

Time: 3:30 p.m. today

Where: Charlie W. Johnson Stadium, Benedict College, Columbia

Last meeting: Hilton Head Christian won 20-13 on Oct. 12.

The Buzz: The two region rivals return for a rematch of their playoff-like game earlier this season, when Hilton Head Christian ended the Rebels' perfect season with a thrilling 20-13 victory. The Eagles have knocked off Thomas Heyward five straight times and have won eight of the last nine in the series overall, but the Rebels are playing their best football of the year heading into the state title game. The Eagles are appearing in the championship game for the sixth time in seven years and are trying to win consecutive titles for the first time in program history. Thomas Heyward, meanwhile, is appearing in the championship for the first time since 1992. The Rebels haven't won a state title since doing it in five consecutive years from 1977-81.

The pick: Thomas Heyward 35, Hilton Head Christian 31

Players to watch

THOMAS HEYWARD

Ryan Day, RB/LB: The Rebels running back has rushed for more than 2,200 yards and 40 touchdowns. Nobody has stopped him. He has also thrown for a touchdown, returned a punt for a touchdown and returned an interception for a touchdown. Even if they win, it's likely the Eagles wil only have limited his damage.

JD Tuten, QB/CB: When healthy, he becomes the key to the Rebels' offense. Despite carrying fewer than 10 times a game, he racks up big yardage against teams keying on Day, often reaching the secondary untouched. He's also an underrated passer and one of the Rebels' top defenders, usually covering the opponents' top receiver.

Bryan Lee Wade, WR/DB: As little as the Rebels throw the ball, Wade still manages to be a dangerous receiver. He's also key on special teams and can take a kick to the house at any time. But like Tuten, he's probably undervalued on defense, where he has teamed with him to limit opponents' passing.

HILTON HEAD CHRISTIAN

Tyler Chisholm, RB: The Eagles tailback returned to the lineup last week after a two-game absence and rushed for more than 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The senior, who has run for 944 yards and 11 scores this year, has eclipsed the century mark on the ground in each of the past three meetings against the Rebels.

Caleb Lewis, QB: The sophomore signal-caller has thrown for 23 touchdowns and just three interceptions this season, including a workmanlike performance against Thomas Heyward earlier this year. The left-hander is 2-0 in two career starts against the Rebels with 375 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

Brad Meccariello, DB: The junior shined in the Eagles' win over Thomas Heyward earlier this season, netting 10 toal tackles, a tackle for loss, an interception, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery. He's fourth on the team with 94 tackles and is second with two interceptions.

RECENT HISTORY

Oct. 12, 2012 -- HHCA 20, THA 13: The Rebels marched on a game-tying drive on their final possession but Eagles corner Jamario Williams grabbed an interception in the end zone with nine seconds left to end the Rebels' undefeated season.

Oct. 21, 2011 -- HHCA 35, THA 26: Brad Meccariello rushed for three touchdowns, Caleb Lewis threw for two more and Hilton Head Christian clinched a share of the SCISAA Region 2-AA title while the Rebels suffered their first loss of the season at the hands of the Eagles.

Oct. 22, 2010 -- HHCA 41, THA 14: Thanks to a 20-0 third quarter, the Eagles turned a 7-point halftime lead into a blowout, due in part to quarterback Luke Sirgo's 279 yards through the air, all while running their region record to 4-0.

Sept. 4, 2009 -- HHCA 20, THA 0: Three of receiver Ethan Gort's five catches went for touchdowns as the Eagles picked up their first victory of the season. Rebels freshman quarterback J.D. Tuten threw three interceptions and had just 77 passing yards in the loss.