One certainly couldn't accuse Hilton Head Christian Academy head football coach Ryan Mitch of being overconfident heading in to Friday's SCISAA Class 2-A semifinal game against Palmetto Christian.
"We're better than we were at the beginning of the season, but after last week, I'm not sure how good we are right now," said Mitch, referring to the Eagles' performance in a 43-28 win over Thomas Sumter Academy. "I hope it was a one-time thing."
Mitch said the slow start against the Generals -- a team the Eagles beat by 40 the first time they played this season -- was a "reality check" for his kids. He said the Eagles weren't physical enough and simply didn't take care of business.
"We had a bad game last week and we were fortunate to be up 24 points in the fourth quarter," Mitch said. "If we do that this time, we'll lose by 40 points. If we come out slow and take a half of football off, we'll be down by 40 points."
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On Friday, Hilton Head Christian (8-2) for the second time in as many weeks will face a team it has already defeated this season. Mitch said it's always tough to beat a team twice, but Palmetto Christian (7-3), also called the Eagles, presents a legitimate challenge for HHCA.
The team is led by senior quarterback J.T. Waters, and stopping him is no easy task. He led the team with more than 2,200 yards rushing and a whopping 41 touchdowns. And he can throw, to boot. Waters has completed 57 percent of his passes for more than 1,700 yards and 14 touchdowns against just four interceptions.
When the teams met Oct. 25, HHCA pulled off a 45-36 win. Hilton Head Christian held Waters to 98 yards rushing in that game, but he scored twice and threw for another score.
"He's a great quarterback," Mitch said. "He can run or throw."
And with another crack at Hilton Head Christian, Waters might fare better this time, particularly if it starts slow again.
"(Palmetto Christian) is the kind of team that puts you on your heels," Mitch said. "They always go for 2, they onside kick every time, they rarely punt. You can't have a letdown on any part of your game in order to win."
The first time around, Mitch said Hilton Head Christian played Waters straight up and tried to force him to hand the ball off more than he threw it or ran it himself. This time, he said, the Eagles may shake it up.
"We have a better idea what they do offensively the second time around," Mitch said. "We may change some stuff up."
A win would put Hilton Head Christian in the SCISAA Class 2-A final (noon, Nov. 23, Columbia) for the fifth straight season with a chance for a third straight championship.
In the end, whether or not Hilton Head Christian gets there, Mitch believes, is less about what Palmetto Christian does and more about his Eagles.
"Overall, I think, I'm more worried about what we're doing and what we're not doing," Mitch said.
SCISAA Class 2-A Semifinals
Palmetto Christian (7-3) at Hilton Head Christian (8-2), 7 p.m.
Last meeting: Hilton Head Christian 45, Palmetto Christian 36 (Oct. 12)
The skinny: A win sends Hilton Head Christian back to the state championship game in Columbia (noon, Nov. 23) in head coach Ryan Mitch's first season and for the fifth straight season overall.
Players to watch: Quarterback J.T Waters is the key to the Palmetto Christian offense. His numbers are staggering: 242 carries for 2,278 yards (9.4 avg.) and 41 TDs. He also completed 117 of 205 passes for 1,748 yards and 14 TDs against four interceptions. And if you ignore senior RB Ryan Roe, you're making a mistake. He has carried 131 times for 1,035 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Keys to the game: Palmetto Christian has a high-powered offense and has proven it can score on Hilton Head Christian. HHCA can't afford to get off to another slow start, as that could be just the opening Palmetto Christian needs to stay in the game. Hilton Head Christian's offensive line has to come out ready to be aggressive and physical and clear holes for Deo'Vonte Doe and crew.