The Ridgeland-Hardeeville High School football team overcame sluggish starts to both halves on an unusual homecoming Friday night to defeat North Charleston, and in the process kept alive its hopes for a Region 6-AA title.
The Jaguars fought back from an early 12-0 first-quarter deficit and a five-point hole midway through the third quarter to outlast the Cougars, 33-24, their fourth straight triumph after opening the season 1-2.
The victory, iced late in the final quarter when senior Shawn Wilson scored on a 1-yard plunge to put the Jaguars (5-2, 4-0) up by 15, sets up a battle next week at Woodland, ranked eighth in Class 2-A heading into Friday's action.
"It wasn't pretty but we did what we had to do tonight," Jaguars coach Blake Raley said. "Our kids responded, and so the goal of winning the region is still alive. Now we have to get ready to go to Woodland. That's the focus now."
Following a week of homecoming activities -- and with a late arriving crowd and a malfunctioning scoreboard -- focus was in rare supply early and often for the Jaguars who had to scrap their way past the one-win Cougars.
In fact, by the time the majority of the crowd reached their seats, the Jaguars had given up two early touchdowns, including a 73-yard bomb from Rickie Simmons to Tony Mack that put North Charleston up by 12.
Early in the season, that adversity might have buried Ridgeland-Hardeeville, but the recent winning streak has provided Raley's team with resiliency and confidence, which was on full display Friday.
Senior quarterback D.J. Myers provided the lift the Jaguars needed with a 19-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter and then a 29-yard scoring pass to Gavin Bush midway through the second that gave the home team a one-point lead heading into halftime.
"Those were big plays for us," Myers said. "We kept our heads up and kept playing hard."
Despite the strong finish to the half, the third quarter began as ominously as the first did. Helped by a pair of fourth-down conversions, the Cougars went on a 14-play scoring drive, by far the longest of the evening, to sap the energy from the homecoming crowd.
The drive was capped by the second of three touchdown passes on the night by Simmons, who found Trey Gardine on a 9-yarder to give North Charleston back the lead at 18-13.
Instead of crumbling, however, Ridgeland-Hardeeville turned to its vastly improved defense to turn the tide. With coaches preaching to make stops, the Jaguars did just that on the next four Cougar possessions. The defense forced a pair of turnovers and stopped two fourth-down conversion attempts to allow its offense to regain control of the game.
Wilson began that surge with a 5-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter, which capped an eight-play 53-yard drive that put the Jaguars back on top 19-18.
Soon thereafter, Myers extended the margin to seven points, hooking up with Bush yet again on a 62-yard play on the first snap of the fourth quarter. Wilson's touchdown a possession later put the game out of reach.
"Our defense really gave us a lift in the second half," Raley said. "They made the plays when we needed them, and that helped us pull this one out. These are the type of games you have to win now and then."
North Charleston got a late score on a 47-yard pitch and catch from Simmons to Mack, but the Jaguars recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
"For us, this win is already behind us and now it's all about next week," said Myers, who now has seven touchdown passes in four region games. "It's all about getting ready for next week."
Ridgeland-Hardeeville 33, North Charleston 24
NC 12 0 6 6 -- 24
RHHS 7 6 6 14 -- 33
NC--D'Andre Gilmore 9 run (run failed)
NC--Tony Mack 73 pass from Rickie Simmons (run failed)
RH--D.J. Myers 19 run (kick failed)
RH--Gavin Bush 29 pass from Myers (Hector Vera kick)
NC--Trey Gardine 8 pass from Simmons (run failed)
RH--Shawn Wilson 5 run (run failed)
RH--Gavin Bush 62 pass from Myers (run failed)
RH--Wilson 1 run (Wilson Run)
NC--Mack 47 pass from Simmons (run failed)