By Wes Kerr
Hilton Head Prep coach Dave Adams was faced with the formidable task of replacing Tommy Stauffer and Carson King entering the home opener against John Paul II.
Two touchdowns and 237 yards later, he found his answer.
Junior running back Loncelle Daley delivered a breakout performance on the ground and on the defensive line Friday, propelling the Dolphins to an impressive 38-16 season-opening home victory over John Paul II.
“Our game plan was to keep it on the ground, move the chains, and run the clock, and we did that,” Adams said. “Loncelle broke out, Tristan Bonomo managed the game, and it was a good, boring, run-the-clock victory.”
A spectacular punt return ignited the Dolphins offense in the opening quarter, as Gunner Askeland sped 45 yards to the JPII 6 before senior transfer Jake Rodney-Brown introduced himself to his home fans with a 2-yard touchdown run. Then senior kicker Trevor Weldon struck from downtown, nailing a 48-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10-0.
The Golden Warriors found their groove on the ensuing drive, going 80 yards in nine plays as quarterback Christian Tilton came up clutch on fourth-and-1 to sneak into the end zone before trimming the lead to 10-8 on a two-point try. But Hilton Head Prep quickly snatched the momentum back thanks to a 29-yard burst by the new Dolphin signal-caller Bonomo and a 1-yard TD plunge from Daley.
Then the Dolphins defense stepped up, as AJ Barger picked off Tilton to set up a second Weldon field goal. John Paul II quickly ran out of time to muster a last-minute drive and found themselves with a 21-8 halftime deficit.
Hilton Head Prep’s offense went right back to work to begin the third period, as the Dolphins run game continually dominated a young JPII defensive line. Rodney-Brown plowed through a tackle to finish off the initial drive of the half with a 20-yard carry and his second score of the afternoon.
Tilton executed a brilliant desperation pitch to Jackson Ogden in an attempt to cut into the 28-8 lead, but a hungry Dolphins defense forced a fumble to wipe away the scoring threat.
The fourth quarter began with a sloppy start, as both offenses spilled the football and turned it over on consecutive plays. Then Loncelle Daley happened. The junior turned on the jets, evaded a horde of defenders on the left sideline, and dealt a sensational stiff-arm on his way to the end zone for a majestic 67-yard touchdown.
“In the first half, he broke one up the middle, and all Loncelle had to do was make one move and he scores,” Adams said. “At halftime, I told him to use his skills. I don’t know if he thought about that when he made that stiff-arm, but he did something I’ve never seen him do before.”
It was lightning in a bottle from a junior who just learned the position, and it gave the Dolphins a commanding 35-8 lead. Weldon’s incredible day wasn’t done, as the senior struck again with a third field goal from 35 yards out.
Ogden found the end zone in the dying minutes for JPII, but it was much too late as Bonomo ran down the rest of the clock to seal a dominant home opener victory.
Tilton was solid for the Golden Warriors in his inaugural start under center, racking up 101 yards and a score while passing for 61 yards. Tony Hill impressed as a versatile playmaker, totaling 46 rushing yards in limited action and hauling in a 26-yard pass. Ogden picked up right where he left off a season ago, rushing for 47 yards and a touchdown on the ground alongside a 25-yard catch. Michael Carbone was outstanding at linebacker with 13 tackles and three for loss, while Peter Hughes put together a monstrous 14-tackle performance at defensive end.
Hilton Head Prep (1-0) hosts Colleton Prep on Friday, while John Paul II (0-1) opens region play at Orangeburg Prep.
Above: Hilton Head Prep junior running back Loncelle Daley rushed for 237 yards and two touchdowns Friday, propelling the Dolphins to a 38-16 season-opening home win over John Paul II. Photo by Justin Jarrertt.