Before they had even left their home field after a 49-28 loss to Hilton Head Christian Academy two weeks ago, Hilton Head Prep's football players and coaches were looking forward to a rematch in the SCISAA Class 2-A semifinals.
The Dolphins get the second chance they coveted tonight, traveling to the north end of the island to face the defending state champion Eagles with a trip to the title game on the line.
"It adds to the idea that it's a monumental task to beat a good team twice in the same season, which I think is a pretty accurate statement," Eagles coach Tommy Lewis said. "And when you combine that with the fact that it's our rivals, it certainly makes it difficult to prepare for."
The rematch marks the second time the island rivals have met in the playoffs -- the Dolphins beat the Eagles 25-14 in the 2007 state championship game -- and ensures one or the other will play for the SCISAA Class 2-A title for the fifth time in the past six years.
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Hilton Head Christian has dominated the series in recent years, winning three straight meetings since the 2007 title game. That's a fact that isn't lost on Dolphins coach Ron Peduzzi.
"If you don't line up and beat them," Peduzzi said, "they can keep saying how great they are."
For a half, it seemed the Dolphins would do exactly that when the teams met to close the regular season two weeks ago at Prep. They jumped out to a 21-13 lead, but Hilton Head Christian scored on the last play of the half to cut it to 21-19 and dominated the second half en route to its second consecutive region title.
"We've got to play better than we did the second half on both sides of the football," Peduzzi said. "In all three areas, really. We had some special teams mistakes, too."
The Eagles found a way to slow down Prep's potent offense in that second half, holding the Dolphins to seven points and 66 total yards after halftime. They were one of only three teams all season to hold the Dolphins under 30 points, but Lewis knows it won't be easy to replicate that feat against a team averaging 448.7 total yards and 46.9 points per game.
"It's not rocket science as to what makes them tick. I think the difficult thing to do is to prepare for the unknown," Lewis said. "They're going to be putting in a few wrinkles and we'll be putting in a few wrinkles of our own. It's going to be a matter of who can handle the other team's wrinkles the best."
Prep was hurt by a key injury in the first meeting, as running back and linebacker Scott D'Amico left in the first half with a foot injury that has his status in doubt tonight.
The Dolphins lost three more starters -- offensive linemen Patrick Briody and Collins Richardson and middle linebacker Jeremy Haidon -- to injuries in last week's 48-20 win at Pee Dee Academy. Running back L.J. Orage was cleared to return from a broken fibula this week, Peduzzi said, but it's unclear how much he will be able to play or how effective he will be.
Lewis noticed some of those injuries during film study this week, but he expects the ailing Dolphins to do everything in their power to get in the game tonight.
"We have to prepare for their best players to play their best game, and I imagine they're doing the same thing for us," Lewis said. "That's just the mentality you have to go into it with. If things are different once you start, then you improvise from there."
Who: Hilton Head Prep (8-3) at Hilton Head Christian (9-1)
When: Today, 7 p.m.
Where: Eagle Stadium
Hilton Head Christian
Offense: QB Luke Sirgo, RB JaBrook Tucker, WR Alex Martin, WR Josh Mousseau, WR Eric Farr, TE Ryan Emery, LT Kyle Weaver, LG Cole Malphrus, C Alec Westmark, RG John Taylor Stones, RT Nick Borghi
Defense: DT Cole Malphrus, NG Robert Campos, DT Kyle Weaver, OLB Ryan Smith, OLB Tyshawn Walls, ILB Clay Oliver, ILB Zach Reynolds, CB Tyler Chisholm, CB J.D. Reichel, SS Devan Fitzhugh, FS Ryan Emery
Special teams: K Tyler Chisholm, P Luke Sirgo, KR JaBrook Tucker, KR Tyler Chisholm, KR Tyshawn Walls, PR Ryan Emery
Hilton Head Prep
Offense: QB Matt Layman, RB Scott D'Amico, WR Dimitri Lowry, WR Alex Orford, WR Jon Dillon, TE Bo Strimpfel, LT Marc Halseth, LG Dylan Powell, C Devin White, RG Tommie Peeples, RT Danny Maggard
Defense: DE Danny Maggard, DE Patrick Andrews, DT Robert Clark, DT Dylan Powell, OLB Kevin Glick, OLB Teron Daley ILB Colin White, ILB Marc Halseth, CB Matt Layman, CB Dimitri Lowry, FS Alex Orford
Special teams: K Colin White, KR/PR Dimitri Lowry, P Matt Layman, KR/PR Scott D'Amico