By Wes Kerr
Bryce Lybrand and the Beaufort Eagles never forgot the feeling of coming up short. From the moment his former mentor snatched the crown away in 2021, Lybrand’s mind was set on taking that last step. Twelve months, 13 wins, and one masterpiece of a season later, the feeling at the final whistle was pure joy.
Kacy Fields and Colton Phares combined for 417 yards on the ground, and the Eagles overcame an early 14-0 hole to soar past the Powdersville Patriots, 41-31, on Thursday at Benedict College in Columbia and capture the 2022 SCHSL Class 3A football state championship to secure Beaufort County’s first public school state football title since 1945.
“It’s just so cool,” Lybrand said. “They just decided to keep fighting. Everybody did their job, and now we get to say ‘we’re state champions.’”
The opening script was all too familiar for the Eagles faithful. Powdersville was ready from the first snap to establish its own dominant ground game.
Sparked by electric senior and Virginia Tech commit Thomas Williams, the Patriots marched down the field on their opening drive. Williams used his wheels to break free down the right side for 30 yards, and quarterback Eli Hudgins scampered across the goal line from 6 yards out for the game’s opening score.
And just like a week ago at Dillon, the Eagles made a costly mistake on their first offensive series. After some miscommunication on the handoff between Fields and sophomore quarterback Samari Bonds, Joshaun Knuckles forced the ball loose to set up Powdersville near midfield and cause the all-important first turnover of the night.
And the Patriots cashed in.
Williams found a hole up the middle and burst through the Beaufort secondary for a 25-yard score and a 14-0 advantage. The hole was getting deeper, but the Eagles wouldn’t be rattled.
Lybrand went right back to a heavy dose of the two runners that brought their team back to Columbia. Beaufort’s drive looked bleak again when Peyton Little and Trez Fowler closed the hole on Fields to force a fourth-and-3 at midfield, but Lybrand pulled out some magic from his pocket to extend the drive — and the Eagles’ chances of leaving Columbia satisfied. Phares took the snap in punt formation, and the senior star burrowed forward to move the sticks.
The trick play stole the momentum right back for Beaufort, as a hard-working Eagles line opened up lanes for its two backs. Phares paid off Lybrand’s gamble on the 18th play of the drive, following his blockers to the outside and extending the ball across the pylon to put the Eagles on the scoreboard at 14-7.
Beaufort’s defense came back out with renewed energy, and Hart Cushman stuffed a pair of Patriot runs before Beaufort’s terrific pass rush and secondary forced a pair of incompletions to get the ball right back.
Phares picked up right where he left off the last series, bursting through the Patriot line for a 16-yard gain before he conjured up another moment of magic. The powerful senior back broke an open-field tackle and turned on the jets to outrun a diving Knuckles to the end zone. Just like that, the 14-point deficit was gone.
Powdersville was in desperate need of an answer, and the talented Williams came up with one himself. The Hokie commit displayed his superb athletic prowess on the field, taking a toss to the left side and weaving through a horde of Eagle defenders on his way to a highlight-reel 69-yard touchdown run.
But just as Beaufort High took another tough punch, Fields dealt an uppercut right back at the Upper State champs. The Patriots pressed their luck with another deep kickoff, and Kacy made them pay.
Fields reeled in the ball at his own 7 yard line and bolted down the right side through a swarm of Patriots and to the house to send the Kirkland Krazies wild – and tie up the game at 21. The Eagles left some time for Powdersville at the end of the half, and the Patriots rode the hot hand of Williams to just outside the Beaufort 20, but Phares was there to knock the football away from Drake Sloan to hold Powdersville to a Nate Spearman field goal and a 24-21 halftime margin.
The Eagles went to the locker room down by three, but their belief in the season’s final 24 minutes couldn’t have been higher.
“I told them at halftime, we got ‘em right where we want ‘em,” Lybrand said. “We’ve been down in every other game, so why not this one?”
With a chaotic second half looming, the Eagles knew that their opening drive would be crucial. And they executed it perfectly to nab their first lead of the game. After several strong runs from both Fields and Phares alongside hard-nosed blocking from Beaufort’s veteran line, Fields found pay dirt on the 11th play with a 12-yard run to the end zone. Phares set it up with a textbook block, and Fields used his elite speed to cruise in on the left side for his first rushing score of the game.
Beaufort’s defense came back out firing with a huge sack from Aaron Lamb and Quion Rivers, but the Patriots quickly found another moment of brilliance. And this time, they did it through the air.
Carter Bowersox arrived in the backfield quickly to put pressure on Hudgins, but the junior quarterback showed off his tremendous arm and slung a missile to Elijah Huggins who made a brilliant catch in traffic inside the Beaufort 10. Williams paid off the big play with a one-yard surge into the end zone, and the Patriots were back in front at 31-27.
Three plays later, it was Kacy’s turn again.
On a clutch third-and-4 at his own 25, Fields followed his blockers up the middle and quickly switched into high gear, shrugging off a pair of tacklers before cruising to the goal line without a Patriot in sight. It was the most dominant run yet in the biggest game of his career.
With the lead back in hand, the Eagles knew that one stop on defense could be the difference. As the fourth quarter dawned upon Charlie W. Johnson Stadium, the Eagles dug even deeper and shut the Patriots down. Williams took the carry on a pivotal fourth-and-two, and a swarm of hungry Eagles burst through the line to end the drive – and put the Lower State champs in command.
Beaufort promptly began to chew away clock on the ground, and the Patriots had no answer for either Fields or Phares. After 11 methodical runs and five minutes off the clock, Fields delivered the final blow. Stationed under center, Fields took the direct snap from the 1 as his teammates pushed him across. The lead swelled to 41-31, and the Eagles began to feel it.
With less than six minutes left to play, Powdersville needed a show-stopper from its stars to stay in it. But it was the Beaufort defense that delivered the encore and closed the curtain on a season of legend. Dom Camacho dislodged the ball from Hudgins as he dropped back, but the junior quarterback recovered and incredibly found Williams as he looked to sprint upfield. Suddenly, Bowersox came charging in, stripped the ball, and secured it himself.
It was a play that epitomized the heart of Beaufort’s defense – and the entire team. The Eagles got the football back, and this time they kept it for good.
With an offside call on fourth down and two more clutch conversions from Fields, Beaufort’s long-awaited celebration began. Fields was promptly given the game ball and skipped across the field with a beaming smile stretched from ear to ear.
The grind had paid off. The Eagles had done it.
“At the beginning of the season, our goal was to come out and win the state championship, not just come back here,” Fields said. “We put in the hard work in the weight room, on the football field, we watched film, everything. We put everything into place and now we’re state champions.”
Fields concluded a sensational senior year with a spectacular finale, rushing 37 times for 219 yards and three touchdowns alongside a 93-yard kick return. Phares was a warrior on the field, adding 198 rushing yards and two scores, while making seven tackles on defense with a key pass breakup.
Will Codding led the Eagle defense with nine tackles, and both Robert Johnson and Rivers put up six stops. Williams paced Powdersville with 236 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries.
The Eagles came away with the victory without attempting a single pass play in the game.
During the season, Bryce Lybrand gave each of his players a wristband with a simple but powerful message: “Great to Greatest.” On Thursday night, those young men accomplished that mission and cemented a legacy on Lady’s Island – and in the Lowcountry – that will never be forgotten.
“We challenged them to go from being a great Beaufort High football team to the greatest Beaufort High football team,” Lybrand said. “Every week they answered the bell, and I’m just so proud of them.”
Wes Kerr is a graduate of Hilton Head Island High School and Davidson College. He reports on local sports for LowcoSports.com