To the impartial observer, the Hilton Head Christian Academy football team's celebration on its rival's home field Friday evening might have seemed a bit premature.
It was like a high school version of a champagne-popping pro sports celebration, as players and coaches sprayed one another with cans of Pennsylvania Dutch Birch Beer, a soda assistant coach Freddy Mitchell brings down from Delaware each fall and keeps in reserve for two occasions -- wins against Hilton Head Prep and state championship victories.
If all goes according to the Eagles' plan, they'll get another shot at the former en route to the latter.
Hilton Head Christian dominated the second half Friday, rallying from a first-half deficit to beat Hilton Head Prep, 49-28, and clinch its second consecutive SCISAA Region 2-AA title -- and setting up a potential rematch in two weeks in the SCISAA Class 2-A semifinals.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Island Packet
After trailing at halftime, the Eagles held Prep's high-powered offense to seven points and 66 total yards in the second half and pulled away for their third consecutive win against their rivals.
If both teams win their first-round playoff matchups next week, they'll meet again in the semifinals.
"They're a great team, and in the first half they proved it," said Eagles receiver Alex Martin, who caught five passes for 126 yards and three touchdowns. "We'll have to play the way we played in the second half for four quarters, especially in the playoffs."
For a half, it was the shootout everyone expected. Hilton Head Prep took a 21-13 lead on Bo Strimpfel's second touchdown run of the half with 37 seconds left before halftime.
That's when everything turned.
The Eagles drove 64 yards in five plays -- aided by two 15-yard penalties -- and Luke Sirgo hit Martin for the first of three touchdown connections between the duo, cutting the lead to 21-19 on the last play of the half.
Another big conversion -- Sirgo's 30-yard hookup with Eric Farr on fourth-and-17 -- kept alive the Eagles' first drive of the second half, which culminated in JaBrook Tucker's 1-yard touchdown run.
The Dolphins regained the lead on Matt Layman's 39-yard touchdown pass to Alex Orford 23 seconds later, but the Eagles dominated the rest of the way, scoring the game's final 22 points.
They were 7 of 12 on third-down conversions.
"If you don't keep the sticks moving against those guys, you're just opening yourself up for them to come back out," Eagles coach Tommy Lewis said. "And you don't want to do that."
The Eagles kept the first downs coming all afternoon. Sirgo threw for 322 yards on 17 of 25 passing with three touchdowns and no interceptions, and Tucker rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. In all, Hilton Head Christian racked up 475 total yards, compared to Prep's 284.
Prep hoped to have a similarly balanced attack, but that plan went by the wayside when running back Scott D'Amico left with a foot injury in the second quarter. D'Amico rushed for 33 yards and a touchdown before the injury.
"When Scott got hurt, we kind of had to scale down our offensive plays," Prep coach Ron Peduzzi said. "And they did a real good job defensively up front."
The Eagles also took away star receiver Dimitri Lowry in the second half by having sophomore J.D. Reichel press him at the line of scrimmage and floating safety Ryan Emery over the top. After catching seven passes for 114 yards in the first half, Lowry had just one 10-yard reception in the second.
While the Eagles were celebrating another region title, the Dolphins were eager to look ahead to a potential rematch.
"The main point is we gave up. We gave up," Layman said. "We can hang with this team. The score does not reflect how we can play. We're definitely a better ball club than that, and we'll be ready to play the next time. I promise you that."