High School Football

Florence Christian denies Hilton Head Christian its 3rd straight state title

HHCA comes up short after wild finish

ccox@islandpacket.comNovember 23, 2013 

COLUMBIA -- Brad Meccariello lay on his back, the quarterback's hands clutching his helmet while teammates stalked toward midfield.

Around him, Florence Christian players celebrated the SCISAA state championship they had clinched moments earlier, when Meccariello's final desperation heave landed in the arms of defender Matthew Wilson with no time left.

The Eagles, for the first time since 2010, were no longer the kings of Class 2-A. After back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012, Meccariello walked off the field at Benedict College's Charlie W. Johnson for the final time in defeat, a feeling he rarely knew at Hilton Head Christian.

It was instead Florence Christian with the spotlight on Saturday, as those Eagles emerged with a wild, 30-27 win and the school's first championship.

"It's real hard," Meccariello said, fighting back tears. "I put a lot on myself. Even when we win I put a lot on myself. I messed up three times at the end with the fumble and the picks. It's hard not to put the blame on me."

His final turnover ended a back-and-forth second half and an even crazier fourth quarter, as the two teams combined for four turnovers in the final 3:48. Meccariello took responsibility for three of those, as the Eagles standout tossed two interceptions and fumbled on a fourth down conversion deep in his own territory.

"It was the craziest two and a half minutes, in terms of emotions, I've ever witnessed," Hilton Head Christian coach Ryan Mitch said.

Hilton Head Christian (9-3) appeared on its way to another championship comeback, when a stifling Florence defense forced a turnover on downs inside its own 1 with less than four minutes to play, trailing by three.

But that's when things got wacky. Meccariello fumbled after a nifty run for a first down, appearing to nix any hope of a comeback until Florence Christian quarterback Adam Hill fumbled a play later. But Meccariello tossed interceptions on each of the Eagles' next two drives, the last of which came after the Hilton Head Christian defense forced one final fourth down stop with under a minute to play.

"Stuff happens, you have to roll with the punches," said senior receiver C.T. Davis, who caught the first two touchdowns of his career in his final high school game. "Mistakes happen, fumbles happen, interceptions happen, dropped passes happen.

"It's not just one guy, it's the whole team. We're not blaming anyone. We're sticking together."

Davis, who finished with four catches for 55 yards and the two scores, was part of a Hilton Head Christian offense that strayed from its usual ground game in favor of a surprising passing attack. Meccariello finished with 192 yards through the air and four scores -- he threw just eight in the regular season -- as he led the team to a 27-24 advantage heading into the final quarter.

DeAngelo Clark caught a touchdown, an impressive 30-yard strike over the middle in which he trucked a Florence Christian defender near the goal line, while Reese Dolyniuk chipped in a 15-yard touchdown late in the first half.

"They stepped up in the biggest game and made plays," Mitch said. "It's a terrible feeling. You want to tell them that you'll get over it as a senior in high school. But (shoot), it's 10 years down the road for me and I'm not over it."

Their efforts were not enough to slow down a Florence Christian offense led by mainstay Gordon Washington, who capped his final game with 184 yards and three touchdowns on 30 carries. The senior, who finished with 33 scores for the season, gave Florence Christian (12-1) the lead for good with his 1-yard plunge with 9:55 to play.

"It is bittersweet," Washington said. "I have been working for this since the seventh grade. We have been getting ready for it. I love this team. They are like my brothers."

His efforts were enough to survive a Hilton Head Christian team that was thought to be in a down year, an 0-2 start expected to be the norm this season for a first-year coach dealing with the departure of several key players.

The Eagles had other ideas. A nine-game win streak and a fifth straight appearance in the championship puncuated Hilton Head Christian's surprising run, which ended just shy of another title.

"We lost the first two games (but) came back each day and got better and better each week," Meccariello said. "We grew as a team. That's probably the best thing I'll remember about this season."

Florence Christian 30, Hilton Head Christian 27

Florence Christian 7 10 7 6 -- 30

Hilton Head Christian 0 15 12 0 -- 27

First quarter

FCS--Gordon Washington 45 rush (Chris White kick), 6:45.

Second quarter

HHCA--Safety, 10:31.

HHCA--C.T. Davis 12 catch from Brad Meccariello (J.R. Moise kick), 8:20.

FCS--Alex James 58 rush (White kick), 8:02.

HHCA--Reese Dolyniuk 15 catch from Meccariello (kick failed), 1:26.

FCS--Chris White 31 kick, 0:11.

Third quarter

HHCA--DeAngelo Clark 30 catch from Meccariello (kick failed), 7:24.

FCS--Washington 10 rush (White kick), 4:07.

HHCA--Davis 8 catch from Meccariello (conversion failed), 1:14.

Fourth quarter

FCS--Washington 1 rush (kick failed), 9:55.

Team Stats

FCS HHCA

First Downs 16 17

Rushes-Yards 47-276 35-94

Comp-Att-Int 4-9-0 14-28-3

Passing Yards 61 192

Punts-Avg 2-20 4-47

Fumbles-Lost 2-3 1-1

Penalties-Yards 6-37 6-45

Third-Down Conv 6-12 9-18

Fourth-Down Conv 1-3 4-5

Individual stats

PASSING: FCS -- Adam Hill 4-9-0-61; HHCA -- Brad Meccariello 14-28-3-192.

RUSHING: FCS -- Gordon Washington 30-184, Alex James 5-76, Bryce Broach 7-38, Austin Drummond 1-0, Adam Hill 4-(-22); HHCA -- Deo'Vonte Doe 24-60, Brad Meccariello 8-33, DeAngelo Clark 2-6, Reese Dolyniuk 1-0, Alex Cooler 1-(-5).

RECEIVING: FCS -- Hunter Eason 1-23, Bryce Broach 1-20, Alex James 1-13, Gordon Washington 1-5; HHCA -- DeAngelo Clark 4-61, C.T. Davis 4-55, Nick Pirozzi 2-52, Reese Dolyniuk 1-15, Alex Cooler 1-9, Deo'Vonte Doe 2-0.

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