Brad Meccariello is starting to see the makings of a state championship football team.
The Hilton Head Christian Academy quarterback could point to a pair of drives Thursday night against rival Hilton Head Preparatory School to justify his reasoning. The first came at the start of the fourth quarter, when the senior engineered a 19-play, eight-minute scoring drive to take a seven-point lead. And after Teron Daley pulled the Dolphins back in it with a kickoff return for a touchdown, the signal-caller countered with a 31-yard touchdown gallop up the far sideline to reclaim the lead with just over two minutes to play.
The two drives, followed by one final stop on Prep's final possession, were enough to seal Hilton Head Christian's thrilling 35-28 win over the Dolphins in the regular season finale for both teams. It gave the Eagles seven straight victories heading into next week's SCISAA playoffs, where Meccariello and Co. will have home-field advantage as they look for a third consecutive championship.
"Their defense was just stuffing us up and our offense was sluggish," he said. "But in the fourth quarter, in the last three minutes, that's when it all counts. Whatever you've got in you, you've got to get it done. We came out and got it in the end zone."
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They did so after the two schools gut-punched one another through the game's first three quarters. The Eagles (7-2) took a 21-7 lead into the locker room, thanks in part to a pair of scoring strikes from Meccariello to DeAngelo Clark and Reece Dolyniuk, but Prep (5-5) responded with a pair of third-quarter touchdowns to tie the game up heading into the wild fourth quarter.
Senior tailback Daley did most of the work, as he sliced through the Eagles defense for 203 yards on just 22 carries. His 5-yard plunge late in the third pulled Prep even after quarterback Tyler Fox found Noah Sulek earlier in the quarter for a 31-yard touchdown pass on the sideline.
"Overall, we played great as a team," Daley said. "Most people didn't expect us to even compete. Everybody was saying we were going to get blown out. We did a great job, we came out and everybody gave it what they got and we left it all out on the field. Nothing else matters."
He deadlocked things one final time midway through the fourth on his 77-yard kickoff return, which would ultimately be the last gasp Prep would give in its vicious fight. The Dolphins turned the ball over on downs with just under a minute to play, ending coach Kevin Wald's second season once again at .500.
Prep missed out on a playoff bid after going 0-4 in Region 2-AA play.
"I think on paper ... probably not many people gave us a chance in this game," he said. "I thought we had a great game plan and we stuck to it. Even down 21-7 we didn't panic, we stuck to what was working. I know it's not what the players want to hear after the game, but we're getting closer."
Hilton Head Christian, meanwhile, will begin preparations Friday morning for another deep playoff run. It will do so believing it has the mettle to reclaim another trip to Columbia, no doubt due in part to the critical fourth-quarter touchdown drives the Eagles posted Thursday.
"We came out with a win, which is the most important thing," coach Ryan Mitch said. "And a little momentum going into the playoffs."
Hilton Head Christian 35, Hilton Head Prep 28
HHP 7 0 14 7 -- 28
HHCA 14 7 0 14 -- 35
HHCA--DeAngelo Clark 20 catch from Brad Meccariello (J.R. Moise kick), 6:12.
HHP--Teron Daley 30 rush (Waddy Brooks kick), 2:01.
HHCA--Deo'Vonte Doe 5 rush (Moise kick), 1:18.
HHCA--Reese Dolyniuk 15 catch from Meccariello (Moise kick), 1:18.
HHP--Noah Sulek 31 catch from Tyler Fox (Brooks kick), 5:46.
HHP--Daley 5 rush (Brooks kick), 1:05.
HHCA--Clark 1 rush (Moise kick), 4:56.
HHP--Daley 77 return (Brooks), 4:41.
HHCA--Meccariello 31 rush (Moise kick), 2:07.
First Downs 13 19
Rushes-Yards 29-220 54-321
Comp-Att-Int 8-14-0 3-7-2
Passing Yards 127 56
Punts-Avg 2-18 3-25
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 1-1
Penalties-Yards 9-68 11-105
Third-Down Conv 3-9 10-14
Fourth-Down Conv 1-3 0-1
PASSING: HHP -- Tyler Fox 8-14-0-127; HHCA -- Brad Meccariello 3-7-2-56
RUSHING: HHP -- Teron Daley 22-203, Robert Clark 4-28, Tyler Fox 2-(-3); Dorsey Baker 1-(-8); HHCA -- Brad Meccariello 17-147, Deo'Vonte Doe 23-126, DeAngelo Clark 11-37, Reece Dolyniuk 3-11
RECEIVING: HHP -- Cole Gardocki 5-63, Noah Sulek 2-60, John Larson 1-4; HHCA -- Deo'Vonte Doe 1-21, DeAngelo Clark 1-20, Reece Dolyniuk 1-15