With Tyler Fox hobbling to the Hilton Head Prep sideline Friday night, it was no secret who was going to carry the load for the Dolphins' next few snaps.
Then again, Gavin Hurlbut only needed one.
Hurlbut blasted through Holly Hill Academy's defense on a 49-yard touchdown scamper midway through the third quarter, breaking open a tight contest as the Dolphins turned the tables on last year's first-round playoff exit with a 21-7 victory in their SCISA Class 1-A opener.
"I was praying that Gavin would have a big play right there," said Fox, who rolled his ankle while playing defense. "There you go — now he's running down the field. That was a great feeling."
Hurlbut rambled for 83 of his 130 yards in the second half as the Dolphins (8-3) advanced to a second-round matchup against Bishopville’s Robert E. Lee Academy, which beat Dorchester in its playoff opener. Fox added 97 yards and a first-half TD, helping Prep amass a total of 225 yards on the ground.
"I said to my team and my staff, if they both go for 100 yards, we'll win this game," Dolphins coach Kevin Wald said. "And lo and behold, that's about what happened."
Prep's Mac Orie sealed the outcome early in the fourth by taking back a punt 40 yards for a score. The Dolphins held the defending 1-A champs scoreless until Nate Bochette's 2-yard plunge through a growing fog with 1:31 remaining.
It could have been even more lopsided, too, as Prep's Rodney Sturgis took the second-half kickoff 84 yards to the end zone, only to see it brought back by a penalty.
Nonetheless, it was an emphatic reversal of last year's result, when Holly Hill began its run to the state title by pushing the Dolphins around in a 41-17 romp. The Raiders went to the air just twice that night, connecting on both for long TDs.
"We tried to return the favor in some way," Hurlbut said.
Said Fox: "It's just the confidence we have now. Not (to criticize) the guys we had last year, but we made sure that we were ready. They gave it to us last year, and we weren't going to let that happen two years in a row. ... I think that fueled the fire just that much more."
Holly Hill actually held the advantage in total yardage, 304 yards to Prep's 250, but came up empty on three fourth-down gambles in the second half. E.J. Churchich may have come up with the biggest stop, halting Hagen Mott's keeper at the Prep 19 two yards shy of a first down.
That came on Holly Hill's ensuing possession after Hurlbut's run with 8:07 left in the third quarter had given the Dolphins a 14-0 edge.
Bochette led the Raiders with 132 yards rushing, though he needed 25 carries to get there, while Mott was largely bottled up to finish with 27 yards. Mott also threw for 111 yards, completing just 6 of 23 attempts while fog grew thick as the Raiders needed to play catch-up.
"I wouldn't say we shut their run game down, but I thought we controlled it much better," Wald said. "Also, we did a good job containing the pass. And we hit passes when we needed it, just to keep them off-balance a little bit."
The contest, played amid varying amounts of fog all evening, was scoreless until Fox guided the Dolphins on a 77-yard drive late in the second quarter. The senior quarterback accounted for 58 yards himself, including a 31-yard keeper deep into Raiders territory and the 7-yard TD two snaps later.
The teams exchanged punts to start the second half before Hurlbut struck. Taking the handoff from backup QB Bryan Allen, he found a hole off left tackle, plowed over a defender near the sideline and sprinted off to the end zone.
"I saw a huge hole open up — all credit in the world to the line — and I just busted it," Hurlbut said. "I wasn't slowing down until I got there."
Hurlbut also ran in the 2-point conversion, giving the Dolphins some breathing room. "You could just feel the guys coming together," Fox said.
The challenge only gets tougher next week, tasked with trying to knock off a Lee squad that went to 10-0 with Friday night's playoff victory.
"We have our eyes on the prize now," Hurlbut said. "All the way to state, that's our goal."
Said Fox: "We're just going to keep doing what's working for us. I hope we get better every week. And I think if we do that, we've got a big shot."