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A season ago, Beaufort High School played for the Class 4A state championship. The Eagles will again have their sights on a state title this year, in Class 3A this time. Photo by Justin Jarrett.

FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Eagles look to finish title run in move to 3A

By Justin Jarrett
LowcoSports.com

When a season ends with a state championship game — exhilarating win or soul-crushing loss — the next one begins with a little different edge. The players who ended the previous season playing for everything they ever dreamed of either can’t wait to taste the championship nectar again … or can’t bear the thought of ending another season in that kind of agony.

So it is for the Beaufort Eagles, who knew well before the final horn sounded at Benedict College that they would not hoist the Class 4A trophy, instead watching friend and former coach DeVonte Holloman celebrate while they wallowed in wonder of what might have been.

But despite the scars left for some, this is a different team ready to tackle a different season, and in a different classification. Coach Bryce Lybrand’s Eagles open the season ranked seventh in Class 3A in the preseason S.C. Prep Football Media Poll, and the people around the state who know football figure they’re among the front-runners to represent the Lower State again this fall.

The move means the Eagles trade in recent region rivalries with Bluffton, Hilton Head Island High, and new nemesis May River — all of whom they’ll still play in non-region games — to renew a crosstown clash with Battery Creek and pick up region foes North Charleston, Philip Simmons, and Hanahan, who is likely to be their biggest challenger for a region title.

Lybrand, who turned down an offer to take the same job at A.C. Flora in the offseason to stay at Beaufort, looks forward to the new perspective.

“I think it’s just about getting to see something different,” the third-year head coach said. “It gets a little monotonous sometimes seeing the same teams over and over again, and they know how you’re going to play certain things and you know how they’re gonna play certain things. For us as coaches, it’s neat to see somebody different and kinda get a different scheme.”

The Eagles might have a bit of a different scheme themselves, as quarterback Samari Bonds takes on the unenviable task of stepping in for veteran Tyler Haley but is poised to make a similar impact on the program if his performance as a freshman at the JV level last season was any indication.

His preseason showing hasn’t dissuaded Lybrand from his lofty expectations.

Beaufort Eagles head coach Bruce Lybrand. Photo by Bob Sofaly.

“Samari’s been great,” Lybrand said. “He’s young and we know he’s going to make some mistakes every now and then and that’s not a big deal. He’s got a great arm, he sees things really well, and he’s really good in the run game. Just making sure we don’t put too much on his plate early. Let him get comfortable and build as the year goes along.”

Bonds and the Eagles will be well-tested by the time they get to region play and beyond. They play three Class 5A opponents in the first four weeks, opening at home Friday against Cane Bay before traveling to Fort Dorchester on Aug. 26 and hosting Goose Creek on Sept. 9, and face the trio of Class 4A schools in Beaufort County to round out a tough non-region slate that will provide a trial by fire for a number of new starters.

But the newcomers will have plenty of veteran presence to lean on from the upperclassmen who felt the exhilaration of running onto the field with a state title in the balance and slinking off of it three hours later, beaten up, but not broken. Senior stars like Kacy Fields, Colton Phares, McLeod Reichel, Hart Cushman, Eamon Smalls, and Michael Dennison will see to it that the younger players find their way, and Beaufort should be one of the teams to beat in Region 8-3A, if not the Lower State.

THIS WEEK’S LOWCOUNTRY SCHEDULE

(All games 7:30 p.m. unless noted)

Thursday

May River at New Hampstead (Ga.)

Friday

Cane Bay at Beaufort

Battery Creek at Hilton Head Island

Colleton County at Wade Hampton (H)

Beach (Ga.) at Bluffton

Ridgeland-Hardeeville at Estill

Hilton Head Prep at Bethesda Academy

Hilton Head Christian at Savannah Christian (Ga.)

Beaufort Academy at Pinewood Prep

Cross Schools at Patrick Henry

Justin Jarrett is the sports editor of The Island News and the founder of LowcoSports.com. He was the sports editor of the Island Packet and the Beaufort Gazette for 6½ years. He has a passion for sports and community journalism and a questionable sense of humor.

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