The Thomas Heyward Academy football team came into Friday night's regular season-ending contest with visiting Palmetto Christian looking to position itself for a deep run in the SCISAA Class 2-A playoffs beginning next week.
The Rebels hopes of doing so, however, were quickly drowned under an avalanche of Waters -- as in Eagles do-everything quarterback J.T. Waters.
The talented senior rushed for seven touchdowns -- six of which from 52 yards or longer -- and added a 15-yard touchdown pass to Will Tuchfarber for good measure as Palmetto Christian defeated Thomas Heyward 64-34 at a waterlogged Harvey Beach Stadium.
With a victory, Thomas Heyward would have secured a No. 2 seed in the playoffs and enjoyed a first-round home game. Instead, the Rebels will go on the road to face a tough Florence Christian squad in their opener, and don't have to look very hard to figure out what went so wrong Friday night.
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From the start, Waters absolutely dominated the football game both with his legs and his arm. The senior rushed for 493 yards and threw for 158 as the Rebels struggled to catch the speedy quarterback, much less get him to the ground when they did.
In all, he scored from 58, 72, 86, 72, 52, 5 and 59 yards on the evening as Thomas Heyward simply couldn't find an answer defensively as the rain poured down practically the entire game.
"We needed to make some more plays defensively," Thomas Heyward coach Nic Shuford said. "(Waters) is a talented player, but we just didn't make enough plays."
Its defensive woes notwithstanding, Thomas Heyward still managed to hang tough with the Eagles for much of the game behind a relatively strong offensive performance of its own. Despite giving up 36 points in the first half, the Rebels entered the third quarter trailing only by two touchdowns and quickly cut the lead to eight points behind a four-yard scoring run by Seth Jones.
Waters temporarily put the rally on ice with the second of his two 72-yard touchdown runs two possessions later, but the determined Rebels answered with yet another score, this time on a 42-yard pass from Davis Owens to Collin Roach, to trim the lead back to 42-34 entering the fourth quarter.
It was the second touchdown reception of the game for Roach, who caught a tipped pass from Owens for a 35-yard score that tied the game at 14 early in the second quarter.
"Offensively, we did some good things," Shuford said. "We got back into the game there at the end of the third quarter and had our opportunities. We just couldn't keep it going."
More to the point, they couldn't stop Waters from keeping his amazing night going. With the issue still in doubt at the start of the final quarter, Waters went from dominant to absolutely ruthless. The quarterback scored three unanswered touchdowns to turn an eight-point game into a 30-point laugher that eased the pain of a tight home loss last weekend to top-seed Hilton Head Christian Academy.
While Waters was the dominant figure for Palmetto Christian, Thomas Heyward used a more balanced offensive attack to stay in the game for as long as they could. One week after a season-best performance by Jones at Northwood Academy, Shuford got the ball to a number of his playmakers including Roach and tailback Zach Belger, who had a 37-yard touchdown run in the fireworks-packed second quarter that saw the two teams combine for 36 points. Jones tallied two scores on the night from inside five yards.
"We wanted to get the ball to Collin, Zach and Jared (Rountree) in addition to Seth and I think we did that as best we could," Shuford said. "We would have liked to have held the ball longer than we did to help the defense, but we did score 34 points."
While the Eagles would ultimately pull away in the second half, the first half was a barrage of big plays one after another by both teams. Waters set the tone of the game four plays in with a 58-yard touchdown run, but was quickly answered by a five-yard score by Jones, which was set up by a 28-yard reception from Roach.
The Rebels 8-6 lead was short-lived, however, as Palmetto Christian returned the ensuing kickoff 74 yards for a score to go up 14-8 after the two-point conversion. While the Rebels did manage to tie the game at 14 on Roach's first touchdown reception, it would never again taste the lead, and as a result, its effort to return to a second straight SCISAA 2-A championship game must happen entirely on the road.
"We just have to battle back. We've done it before," Shuford said. "We did it after the Christian Academy (loss) and went on the road to beat Northwood Academy. Whether you're two or four, you still have to beat the best to get to the state championship."
Palmetto Christian 64, Thomas Heyward 34
TH 8 14 12 0 -- 34
PC 14 22 6 22 -- 64
PC -- J.T. Waters 58 run (kick failed)
TH -- Seth Jones 5 run (Jones run)
PC -- Ben German 74 kick return (Will Tuchfarber pass from Waters)
TH -- Collin Roach 35 pass from Davis Owens (run failed)
PC -- Waters 72 run (Waters run)
TH -- Zach Belger 37 run (Jones run)
PC -- Will Tuchfarber 15 pass from Waters (Waters run)
PC -- Waters 86 run (pass failed)
TH -- Jones 4 run (run failed)
PC -- Waters 72 run (pass failed)
TH -- Roach 46 pass from Owens (run failed)
PC -- Waters 52 run (Waters run)
PC -- Waters 7 run (run failed)
PC -- Waters 59 run (Waters run)