Entering Friday night's home SCISAA Class 2-A semifinal against Palmetto Christian Academy, Hilton Head Christian Academy head coach Ryan Mitch was hoping there would not be a repeat of the Eagles' lackluster start in last week's 45-28 win over Thomas Sumter Academy.
Turns out, Mitch had nothing to worry about.
Hilton Head Christian came out of the gate quickly, turned Palmetto Christian star quarterback J.T Waters into a one-dimensional player and defeated Palmetto Christian 45-26 to advance to the 2-A state championship at noon Saturday at Benedict College's Charlie W. Johnson Stadium in Columbia.
"Last week was probably the most disappointed I've been in them since the second week of the year against Bible Baptist," Mitch said. "But it was kind of a reality check for them. Step up. This is your big game. This is the playoffs. It's not a right to go to the state championship game. You've got to earn it. They practiced well this week and got after it, and it translated well to the game."
"We had a great week of practice. These guys didn't want to go home," Hilton Head Christian quarterback Brad Meccariello said. "We wanted to make it to the next week. So we buckled down and stepped it up on defense and offense."
The tone was set for the evening on Palmetto Christian's first drive.
On third-and-11, as the Hilton Head Christian pass rush closed in on Waters, his pass was batted in the air and caught by his own offensive lineman, Aaron Holley.
Holley carried several HHCA defenders for 4 yards before fumbling the football before he was down. Those would be the only yards Palmetto Christian gained in the passing game all night.
On the very next play, Deo'Vonte Doe tore around the left end for a 32-yard touchdown sprint.
Doe's running and Waters' passing woes became themes for the night.
Doe, a senior transfer from Ridgeland-Hardeeville, simply did what he's done the previous 12 weeks -- prove that SCISAA 2-A defenses can't stop him. On 23 carries, he amassed 204 yards and three touchdowns, later scoring on runs of 54 and 8 yards.
"He's a stud," Mitch said, smiling and nodding his head. "He got it done. He made the big runs when they were there. Even the runs where he didn't get much, he really fought for what he got."
As for Waters, who came into the game completing 57 percent of his passes for 1,748 yards and 14 touchdowns, the night didn't get any better in the passing department. In fact the 4-yard completion to his lineman may have been the highlight. His next pass attempt encapsulated his night.
With Palmetto Christian trailing 7-6 in the first quarter, Waters followed his own rushing gains of 18 and 22 yards on the previous two plays with a pass attempt that ended up in the hands of HHCA's Chris Edwards, who rambled 70 yards for the touchdown.
Waters finished the night with a stellar 264 yards rushing on 31 carries. But Palmetto Christian inexplicably continued to call for the pass. His only other completion on the night went for no yards. He also was intercepted again by Brad Meccariello and finished the night just 2 for 15.
"Last game we played them, they just took us apart. Their passing game just killed us," Meccariello said. "That was something the DBs and the defensive coaches worked on. They weren't going to pass on us like last game."
Mitch acknowledged an effort to take something away from Waters' game, but gave a lot of the credit to the steady rain.
"I think it had a lot to do with the weather," Mitch said. "We changed our scheme up a little bit to take away some of the passing stuff on third downs. But they ran the ball well enough where they really didn't need to pass in many situations."
Tailback Ryan Roe had a good night on the ground for Palmetto Christian, as well, running for 79 yards and three of the team's four touchdowns.
Palmetto Christian finishes the season 7-4, while the win, the Christian Academy's ninth straight, makes the Eagles 9-2. Now, their focus turns to Florence Christian, a 48-20 winner over Northwood in the other 2-A semifinal Friday night.
"They've got a great line and two good running backs," Meccariello said. "We're ready for them, and I know they're ready for us, too."
Hilton Head Christian 45, Palmetto Christian 26
Palmetto Christian 6 14 0 6 -- 26
Hilton Head Christian 22 7 13 3 -- 45
HHCA -- Deo'Vonte Doe 32 run (JR Moise kick) 11:01
PC -- Ryan Roe 4 run (run failed) 10:05
HHCA -- Chris Edwards 70 Interception return (DeAngelo Clark run) 7:04
HHCA -- Doe 8 run (Moise kick) 2:51
PC -- Roe 4 run (J.T. Waters run) 11:54
PC -- Roe 14 run (pass failed) 10:49
HHCA -- Brad Meccariello 1 run (Moise kick) 5:11
HHCA -- Doe 54 run (Moise kick) 10:12
HHCA -- Reese Dolyniuk 1 run (kick blocked) 0:27.4
HHCA -- Moise 37 field goal
PC -- Waters 11 run (pass failed) 4:40
First Downs 14 14
Rushes-Yards 49-346 54-317
Comp-Att-Int 2-15-2 4-10-1
Passing Yards 4 33
Punts-Avg 2-29.5 2-41.5
Fumbles-Lost 2-1 2-2
Penalties-Yards 3-20 5-45
Third-Down Conv 6-14 4-12
Fourth-Down Conv 3-4 0-4
PASSING: Palmetto Christian -- J.T. Waters 2-15-2-4; Hilton Head Christian -- 4-10-1-33.
RUSHING: Palmetto Christian -- Waters 31-264, Roe 17-79, Graydon Breaux 1-3; Hilton Head Christian -- Deo'Vonte Doe 23-204, Meccariello 14-45, DeAngelo Clark 8-38, Reese Dolyniuk 7-19, JR Moise 1-11, Nick Pirozzi 1-0.
RECEIVING: Palmetto Christian -- Aaron Holley 1-4, Will Tuchfarber 1-0; Hilton Head Christian -- C.T. Davis 2-20, Dolyniuk 1-14, Clark 1-minus-1.