After making their way through the handshake line, Hilton Head Prep coach Ron Peduzzi and offensive coordinator Steve Fuller headed toward the north end zone at Hilton Head Christian Academy to deliver their final post-game speech of the season.
But their team was waiting at the other end of the field.
It's no wonder the Dolphins wanted to get as far away from that north end zone as possible -- their difficulty getting into it in the fourth quarter was their undoing Friday.
Hilton Head Christian made a pair of goal-line stands and Alex Martin intercepted a Matt Layman pass in the end zone to seal a 32-26 win in the SCISAA Class 2-A semifinals, sending the defending champion Eagles to the title game for the fourth time in five years.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Island Packet
"They're a heck of a team, obviously," Martin said. "Great quarterback, an amazing receiver. Coach has been talking all week about how it's hard to beat a good team twice in the same year, and it really is."
The Eagles will have to try to do it again to defend their state title. They'll face Thomas Sumter, which beat St. Andrew's 48-24 in the other semifinal, at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Benedict College in Columbia. The Eagles beat Thomas Sumter 39-10 on Sept. 17.
The Dolphins made sure their rival's road back to the championship game was treacherous.
Prep took a 17-10 lead with 29 seconds left in the first half on Layman's 4-yard run, and despite a rash of injuries, it looked like the Dolphins might find their way back to the championship game for the first time since winning the title in 2007.
"We had a great game plan, and the kids had a great attitude," Prep coach Ron Peduzzi said.
Unlike in a 49-28 home loss to Hilton Head Christian two weeks ago, when the Eagles punched back Friday, Prep didn't fold.
Even after the Eagles (10-1) took a 32-17 lead with 9:19 left on quarterback Luke Sirgo's 11-yard touchdown run -- his third of the game -- Prep came storming back.
The Dolphins (8-4) drove to the Eagles' 5-yard line before Scott D'Amico was stopped a yard short of the goal line on fourth down. Prep still converted the drive into points when Sirgo was called for intentional grounding in the end zone three plays later, resulting in a safety, and the Dolphins again got within a yard of the end zone before Layman fumbled the exchange on a quarterback sneak from the 1.
Still, the Dolphins had a chance to win it.
Layman drove them 45 yards in three plays, connecting with Dimitri Lowry for an 18-yard touchdown to get within 32-26, and after Hilton Head Christian's Devan Fitzhugh recovered an onside kick, Prep forced Sirgo's second fumble of the night to get one last chance.
"I knew we had to put them away, and they just weren't having anything to do with it," Eagles coach Tommy Lewis said. "They really made us work. They made us earn everything we got."
Prep drove to the Eagles' 28 with 1:05 left, but Layman's pass to the end zone for Lowry instead wound up in Martin's waiting arms.
"We've watched enough film on Prep to know when they need to score immediately, they're going to Dimitri," Martin said. "I dropped back, saw the ball go up, made a little turn. Perfect ball. Luke couldn't really get me the ball tonight. Matt did a good job of it, though."
Neither star quarterback had his best night -- Sirgo threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles, and Layman had two interceptions and a fumble of his own -- but both led their teams back in the second half.
Before Layman's near-heroics in the fourth quarter, it was Sirgo who took charge. Sirgo ran for 109 of his game-high 164 yards in the second half, and after going 0-for-7 with two interceptions during a stretch of the first half, he was 6-for-10 for 119 yards and a touchdown after halftime.
"I just had something on my heart that I wanted to do," Sirgo said. "I didn't want to let my teammates down."
His determination was never more evident than on his final touchdown run, during which he hit Lowry head-on at the 3-yard line, knocking both players back a couple of yards, then regained his balance and surged into the end zone.
"That's the way Luke is," Lewis said. "He's a really laid-back, easy-going kid, even though he's a tremendous leader, and when things are going well, you just don't see that determination and grit, because he doesn't really need to show it. But that's the way he's always responded to difficult situations. He is determined to not let his team down. He is determined to give everything he's got. And we got to see that in the second half."