By Wes Kerr
Deep in the third quarter of Saturday’s Blitz Border Bowl at Savannah’s Memorial Stadium, Team Lowco was facing a 13-point deficit that almost seemed insurmountable — especially considering the offense had yet to put points on the board. Then, in just a blink of an eye, a group of determined Lowco stars flipped the script — and brought the Blitz Border Border trophy back home.
Wade Hampton sensation and game MVP Jamian Risher caught a 59-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, and he threw the go-ahead score just seconds later to Jayden Gilliam as Team Lowco scored 14 unanswered points to storm past Team Coastal Empire 14- 13 and capture the 2022 Blitz Border Bowl on Saturday in Savannah.
“We fought adversity in the first half, and we came back and finished it off,” Risher said.”It’s great to win the last game of my high school career, and to seal it off with this trophy.”
With the victory, Team Lowcountry evened the all-time Blitz Border Bowl series at two games apiece. It was the first edition played since the Coastal Empire’s win in 2020 after the 2021 game was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We just kept going”, Thomas Heyward linebacker Brandon Howard said. “The game ain’t over until the clock hit zeroes, so we just kept that mentality on the field.”
The Coastal Empire started the game with an impressive and methodical opening drive, using a strong rushing attack mixed with short passes to standout Jenkins High receiver Tre Brown. After taking seven minutes off the clock, South Effingham’s Cameron Edwards plunged into the end zone for an early 7-0 lead.
It was a struggle at first for the Lowcountry’s offensive attack, as a hungry Coastal Empire pass rush took down starting quarterback Tyler Haley to force a quick punt. An illegal block penalty helped the Lowco get a key stop on the ensuing Georgia drive, and head coach Bryce Lybrand unleashed Hilton Head Christian Academy running back Speedy Robinson with a clutch chain-moving run on fourth down. But the drive abruptly stalled when a Haley pass slipped through the hands of Seahawks wideout Gilliam.
It looked like South Carolina would get the ball right back after a mishandled punt, but the ruling was eventually overturned as the sideline of blue jerseys stood still searching for its offense. Fueled by Howard’s intensity at linebacker, the defense continued to dig in, making a massive stop inside its own 30-yard-line with 45 seconds to play in the first half.
Lybrand went to his two-minute offense, and Haley fired a strike to Howard before hitting Risher, who stiff-armed a defender across the Georgia 40. But the Beaufort High quarterback ran into trouble on the next play, as Jashard Richey reeled in an interception on a tipped pass to end the first half.
Despite a series of tough breaks for the Lowco contingent in opening two stanzas, a solid defensive effort kept the hopes of a comeback alive. That opportunity grew bleaker by the minute, as the Coastal Empire rode the stellar running of Cameron Edwards to set up Gilbert Brown, who doinked in a 38-yard field goal off the crossbar to go up 10-0. It was nearly a disaster on the ensuing kickoff as Jamie Speight recovered a loose ball, but a gritty Lowco defense held again to keep it a two-score game at 13-0.
It seemed to be a day of missed chances for the South Carolina side, who saw a probable walk-in touchdown go off the hands of Gilliam, but Haley and company kept battling and found a spark with Robinson in the backfield to pick up another first down.
Then, in just a matter of seconds, a team desperate for that big play found lightning in a bottle, three times in a row. With the pocket quickly collapsing, Haley slid the ball into Risher’s hands before Wade Hampton’s do-it-all dude turned upfield and darted to the end zone for a 59- yard touchdown.
“My QB put it on the money, and I just saw green grass so I took it and ran,” Risher said.
The newfound momentum transferred right over to the defensive side, as Woodland High School’s Kendrick Clark made a big play of his own. Keon Edwards was looking downfield to connect with Brown, but Clark read the play perfectly and used his terrific athleticism to haul in the pass and set his team right back up in Georgia territory with a chance to take the lead.
It took just one snap to make that happen.
After dropping two key passes earlier in the game, Hilton Head High’s Gilliam came through in the biggest moment of all, securing a 36- yard pass from Risher on a reverse trick play as the Lowco sideline erupted.
“I was really praying that I caught it,” Gilliam said. “I wasn’t having a good game, but I got back to it and made it back up.”
Hilton Head Prep kicker extraordinaire Trevor Weldon did the rest, booming the PAT to give the Lowco its 14th straight unanswered point and its first lead of the game.
But the job was far from done. The defense needed to deliver again, and Howard alongside a host of Lowco stars rose to the challenge, containing Keon Edwards in the pocket while a potent group of defensive backs excelled in coverage downfield to force another punt. There was still tension in the air as Haley and company took over from their own 2-yard-line, but an offside call and some tough running from Robinson helped move the chains and run down the clock.
With another first down likely ending the game, the Coastal Empire stuffed a trio of run plays and burned its timeouts for a chance to get the ball back. On a day where both the offense and defense found their potential in the second half, it was the special teams that made the final statement. Just as the ball grazed off the Coastal Empire returner’s hands, Beaufort’s Hunter Rast was there to pounce on it and send the Lowco victory formation onto the field. Haley came back out onto the field, taking his position under center one final time.
After a football season for the ages, it was only fitting that he would finish it with a win. The Lowco all-stars showed unbeatable heart all day long, and kept it going through the final play, recovering another mishandled punt as the senior standouts rushed the field in celebration.
It was a game that reflected the hard work and resilience the Lowcountry’s teams showed all year long, and it wrote a phenomenal final chapter to a memorable high school football season. On a beautiful Savannah afternoon, we witnessed a perfect closing memory for a group of Lowco rivals that bonded together, handled adversity, and came out as champions.
“They’re just a fun group to be around,” Lybrand said. “We’ve got good people, we’ve got good coaches. The kids played hard, they’ve done it all year, and they came out and did it today. All the credit goes to them.”