Beaufort looks to end 76-year drought, avenge 2007 championship loss, beat former coach in 4A title game
Above: The Beaufort High School Eagles take to the field Friday night, Nov. 26, to face the West Florence Knights for the 4A Lower State Championship. The Eagles came away with a solid 42-10 win and will play for the 4A State Championship game Thursday at Benedict College in Columbia. Photo by Bob Sofaly.
By Justin Jarrett
For all the rich football history and success that Beaufort High School can boast, a state title has eluded the program since 1945, when Harry Deloach ran wild in the Eagles’ 26-0 rout of Clover to cap a perfect season with the Class B crown.
The Eagles get a chance to change that Thursday night, wen they face South Pointe and former head coach DeVonte Holloman for the Class 4A title at 7 p.m. at Benedict College in Columbia.
As those who have worn the green and white before can attest, these opportunities don’t come along often. There were a couple of quarterfinal appearances under Mike Rentz in the 1980s, and another under Glen Hall, then two more under Richard Brady in the 1990s before the Eagles hit a rough patch.
Beaufort didn’t get back to the state championship game until 2007, when Mark Clifford led the Eagles on a six-game win streak following a loss to John McKissick’s powerhouse Summerville squad to reach the championship game and a rematch with Clover that was 62 years in the making.
As everyone in Beaufort recalls all too well, it did not end in triumph. The Eagles couldn’t hang onto the ball, and the Blue Eagles were able to grind out a 23-14 win to end their own drought and continue another.
Clifford has since won a SCISA 8-man title at Beaufort Academy, but Beaufort High is still seeking its title. No one will want it more Thursday than Logan Powell, the tight end on the runner-up 2007 team who now serves as the Eagles’ offensive coordinator.
“When I first came back to Beaufort High I would always say that I wanted to help bring a championship to Beaufort, and some of that was probably rooted in overcoming that loss in 2007,” Powell said. “I would say since then, I’m at a place where I’m not as much motivated to just win a championship, but helping building this program where we do everything the right way, and championships can be a result of that.”
But the championship that eluded him in 2007 sure would be nice.
Powell sees similarities between this team and the one he helped lead to the state’s biggest stage as a senior — the dominant defense, powerful ground game, and whip-smart quarterback who gets the ball to the right place — but he jokes that tight end Michael Dennison is a major upgrade over himself.
But Clifford’s split-back system is a relic of the not-so-distant past, replaced by a modern spread offense that forces defenses to pick their poison and puts the trust in quarterback Tyler Haley to make quick reads.
Bridges Prep athletics director Blake Gruel was the quarterback of that 2007 team, and the title game remains a painful final chapter in a terrific high school career. Gruel has been impressed by Haley’s development and expects him to be ready for the challenge, but he has some advice from someone who has been there.
“Block out the noise. Do what you’ve been doing all your life with the game you love,” Gruel said. “Trust in your teammates, your coaching staff, and believe in your ability and good things will happen. Go finish this thing that I couldn’t.”
The Eagles have proven adept at closing out games, especially in recent weeks. They beat a powerhouse Benedictine squad on Sept. 3 that hasn’t lost since and will play in the Georgia Class 4A semifinals this weekend. And they held off top-ranked Myrtle Beach for a hard-fought 20-19 road win in the Lower State semifinals. Even when they’ve fallen behind early, including in last week’s 42-10 rout of West Florence, they haven’t panicked.
Powell doesn’t think the moment will be too big for this bunch of Eagles, but he has tried to prepare them for the potential pitfalls.
“I talked with some of the players about navigating the build up to the game, that’s the hard part,” Powell said. “Not allowing all of the spectacle of playing in a state championship to get in the way of just playing the game. Luckily, a lot of the guys on this team have been in big-time environments, so the environment shouldn’t be shocking to any of them. The one thing I did tell them to expect about the game is how fast it will go by.”
Not to mention how quickly the years can slip by without another chance to end the drought if they don’t take advantage of the opportunity before them.
“Overall, I told them to enjoy it,” Powell said. “They are now a part of a very small fraternity of Eagles who can say they played for a state title, and if we can play well and have a few things go our way, they can claim the title of the group to win it.”
Advance tickets are $15 and can be purchased at https://gofan.co/app/ events/471692 through midnight Wednesday. Afterward, they can be purchased at https://gofan.co/app/events/471697?schoolId=SC164. Masks MUST be worn to enter the stadium. This is a strict policy.
PAINT THE TOWN
Send off the Eagles in style with your posters, pom poms and green and white apparel. The team busses leave Beaufort High at 1 p.m., Thursday, will cross the Woods Memorial Bridge and then take a left down Bay Street. Supporters are encouraged to cheer them on.