By Wes Kerr
The 2021 high school football season in the Lowcountry is off and running.
Eight area public and private schools got a taste of live competition Thursday in a 7-on-7 tournament at Beaufort High School presented by the South Coastal Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The host Eagles continued their local dominance on the gridiron, downing Hilton Head Island 12-6 in the championship game to finish the day 6-0 and claim preseason county bragging rights.
Bluffton, May River, Whale Branch, Wade Hampton, and defending SCISA 1A and 2A state champions Thomas Heyward and Hilton Head Christian Academy also participated. The event included a lunchtime message from FCA leaders and an inspirational story from former Clemson quarterback Rush Lowther about his football journey and Christian faith.
“I think the most important thing is that you’re talking about having a relationship with Jesus Christ,” Beaufort High head coach Bryce Lybrand said. “Football is great, but the most important part is that, and hopefully somebody left today knowing something they didn’t know.”
The tournament began with three games of pool play before the teams were seeded into an eight-team bracket. After both survived close battles in the quarterfinals, Beaufort High outdueled an impressive and young Bluffton side in a 38-30 shootout, while Hilton Head’s stellar defense led by Notre Dame commit Jaylen Sneed propelled the Seahawks to the title game in a 6-0 shutout of May River.
“We all played together as a team, and I just made my reads and watched the quarterback’s eyes,” Sneed said. “I’m trying to coach up the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, and make sure they know what to do on the field, make sure they play hard. I just want to get deep in the playoffs. A state championship is the dream, but I want to get into the playoffs and be able to call this team my family.”
Beaufort continued its sensational play on offense to begin the championship, as Tyler Haley tossed a dazzling corner fade before a spectacular arm-extension grab doubled the lead to 12-0. Hilton Head High made it a ballgame late on a quick hook in the middle of the end zone, but a dazzling juke on the ensuing Beaufort High possession ran out the clock and put the exclamation mark on an outstanding Eagle performance.
“All of these kids that played today played really, really well,” Lybrand said. “We go against each other every day, so it’s good to see the different ways people adjust to what you do offensively and defensively. That’s good for us as coaches, and it’s good practice for us as well.”
Haley, the Eagles’ senior quarterback, showcased his terrific passing abilities, lighting up the scoreboard against a group of strong area defenses. A wide receiver with the potential for a monster season, Kacy Fields dominated his match-ups all day alongside emerging wideouts Mcleod Reichel and Michael Dennison.
Daryl Depass delivered a lockdown defensive effort at corner, and junior safety Colton Phares put together a phenomenal outing, snatching a pair of interceptions on the day to go along with seven tackles.
For the victorious Eagles and the rest of the eight-team field, it was an opportunity for an early tune-up against familiar rivals before the real thing kicks off in August.
“We were able to see some good football teams and get reps,” Lybrand said. “When that happens, you have a chance to improve, and that was what today was about. I feel like we’re a better football team today than we were when we came out here.”
Above: The Beaufort Eagles and Wade Hampton Red Devils squared off during the South Coastal Fellowship of Christian Athletes 7-on-7 tournament Thursday at Beaufort High School. Area high school football teams played a scrimmage-type game for 20 minutes in a single elimination format. The Eagles went 6-0 and defeated Hilton Head Island High School 12-6 for the championship. Photo by Bob Sofaly.