If Hilton Head Island High School has a chance of upsetting fourth-ranked Strom Thurmond tonight in their Class 3-A playoff opener, coach B.J. Payne knows it's going to come down to playing better defense.
"We've got to keep guys in front of us and make plays in the backfield," Payne said.
That may be easier said than done. The Seahawks (5-5) have given up an average of 54 points over the past three games -- 51 to Berkeley, 48 to Orangeburg-Wilkinson and 63 to Hanahan.
And Strom Thurmond (9-1) is a step above the Seahawks' last three opponents.
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"They're a very good team, No. 4 in the state, and their only loss is to a team from Maryland, a football factory," Payne said. "... They've got two kids in the Shrine Bowl, two kids in the North-South game, and their best (senior) player isn't in either one. They're very talented."
The Rebels' two Hammonds will be the focal point for the Seahawks.
Junior quarterback Jauveer Hammond has accounted for 28 touchdowns -- 15 through the air and 13 on the ground, where he averages 6.6 yards per carry.
"Their quarterback is more of a dual threat than we've seen at all this year," Payne said. "He can go. If he gets a crease, he'll break it."
Running back Darius Hammond, a Shrine Bowler and finalist for Mr. Football, has rushed for 1,138 yards and 19 touchdowns, averaging 9.1 yards a carry.
Tykim Brooks, Payne's pick as the Rebels' best player, has 52 receptions for 859 yards and eight touchdowns.
"We've just got to keep getting better every day," Payne said of his defense. "We're extremely young and we've started to play a lot of freshmen and sophomores on defense. I think we've had a much better week of preparation. Guys have been focused all week. But we've got to knock out the big play, our nemesis all year."
The offense, led by Shrine Bowl quarterback Michael Julian has been the Seahawks' strong suit this season, but Payne said they face a challenge there, as well.
"Defensively, they're very talented as well," Payne said. "Their linebackers are better than anyone we've seen, and that says a lot, because Bluffton is very good."
Payne says the Seahawks have proven all year that they'll continue to fight until the end. He hopes his defense can eliminate the big plays, "create some turnovers and put our offense in a good position."
While the Seahawks obviously hope to pull off the upset, for Payne, the playoffs are a sort of victory in themselves. He pointed out that if you win a game, you get an extra two weeks of practice, which can only be good for his young defense.
And Payne likes the fact the Seahawks are facing a program with a history and "20 to 30 region titles."
"I think it's something for our kids to see and get focused on."