By Wes Kerr
In the biggest moment of his Beaufort High coaching tenure, Bryce Lybrand orchestrated a masterpiece.
Amariee Morris found the end zone four times, and Beaufort’s tremendous defense posted a second-half shutout in front of a sold-out home crowd Friday to dismantle West Florence 42-10 and catapult the Eagles into Thursday’s SCHSL Class 4A state championship game.
“Just blessed,” Lybrand said. “I have so much respect for Coach Jenerette and that program. We knew we were going to have to play a really good game, and this is the best game we’ve played. Hats off to our kids, our coaching staff, and West Florence.”
It’s Beaufort’s first trip to the state title game since 2007 and will pit Lybrand against his mentor, former BHS coach DeVonte Holloman and South Pointe.
The key for Beaufort High’s defense was to stop dangerous running back Terry Mckithen, and it was the senior who landed the first punch. Mckithen sliced through the Eagles’ front for 20 yards and got the call again on the next play, shrugging off an Eamon Smalls tackle and diving past the goal line for a 30-yard score and a 7-0 lead.
Colton Phares provided the Eagles a spark on special teams, bringing the ensuing kickoff to the West Florence 42. Then Tyler Haley took advantage of the short field, hooking up with reliable targets McLeod Reichel and Kacy Fields before Morris scampered through a big hole and into the end zone from 14 yards out.
“What I love about them is that they don’t panic,” Lybrand said. “They just keep playing, and that’s what they did tonight.”
Beaufort’s defense settled in on the ensuing possession, and Haley went right back to work, hitting Reichel on a crucial third down before Morris powered in his second score of the night from the 5-yard-line to make it 14-7. The Knights threatened to even the Lower State title bout, driving inside the Beaufort 25, but an Alvin Wilson sack pushed the visitors back, and a ferocious defense pounced on Mckithen to keep the potent ball-carrier short on third down. The offense initially remained on the field, but a false start penalty brought the field goal team out for a 39-yard Sam Spence kick, cutting the advantage to 14-10.
With the Eagles return team caught off-guard on a surprise West Florence onside kick, a hungry Beaufort defense vowed to get the ball back. They did it in just one play. James Dennison tipped Deuce Hudson’s pass, and John Asher Howell pulled in the live ball to swing the momentum right back to the home team.
Two Haley passes later, the Eagles were in the end zone again. Haley slung a bullet to Zyrin Odom for 25 yards and sizzled a strike to Reichel in the back of the end zone to go up 21-10 in front of a roaring Beaufort crowd. The Knights were in desperate need of points as the first-half clock ticked away, and pushed the ball inside the BHS 30 on a Quantrell Pickens reception and Mckithen catch on fourth down. But a false start sent West Florence in the wrong direction to stymie the drive, and Spence’s 42-yard field goal sailed wide as time expired to send the Eagles flying into halftime.
With the game’s outcome potentially hinging on West Florence’s first possession of the second half, a locked-in Eagles defense rose to the challenge once again. Smalls and a swarm of Beaufort defenders stuffed Mckithen twice to start the crucial drive, and the pass-rushers ended it on the next play, forcing a wild throw to set the tone for a dominant defensive stanza.
After building the lead with his terrific arm, Haley used his legs to take full control of the title bout. With the West Florence defense setting its eyes on Morris and his teammates out wide, the senior quarterback took it himself and found a wide-open seam down the field for 35 yards. Haley kept it again to set up a first-and-goal, and Morris did the rest with his third trip across the goal line to put Beaufort in full command, up 28-10.
“I feel like I’ve always been able to run it a little bit, but I showed it tonight,” Haley said. “They have a really good defense, guys fly around everywhere, we just gotta do what we do, stick to the run game, execute everything, and we did that tonight.”
The Eagle defense continued its dominance against a talented West Florence attack, pressuring Hudson on nearly every play and forcing a pair of three-and-outs and a turnover on downs to open the half. The Knights found a sliver of life near the end of the third quarter with a Steven Smalls interception on a pass that was tipped at the line, and Hudson stepped up with a 34-yard completion to Pickens. But a relentless Colton Phares and James Dennison wrapped up a series of promising runs before a last-gasp fourth-down attempt fell incomplete.
The rally towels were dancing in the night sky, and the Beaufort faithful could feel it. Then, the Eagles sent in the dagger. After a nifty pass from Haley to Fields, the star running back returned for his curtain call. Morris capped off his phenomenal outing with his most impressive run yet, darting past a pack of Knights and crossing the goal line for a 27-yard score.
On a spectacular night from all three phases, it was only fitting that Beaufort’s special teams finished off the scoring. Lybrand’s uncontainable pass rush pushed the Knights back to their own 12, and a blocked punt bounced into the arms of Jack Sumner, who strode into the end zone with a grin across his face. The house was rocking, and the Eagles were soaring into the state championship game. It was the exclamation point on a clinical showing and punched Beaufort’s ticket to Columbia for its first title game appearance in 14 years.
Morris feasted on the ground to lead the Eagle offense, rushing for 70 yards and four touchdowns on 13 carries. Haley put it all together under center in a memorable final home game, completing 10 of 13 passes for 134 yards, a touchdown, and an interception while adding 51 rushing yards. After catching the game-winning score at Myrtle Beach, Reichel came up big again, reeling in three passes for 53 yards and a touchdown.
When DeVonte Holloman left Beaufort High for South Pointe in 2019, Lybrand believed that he could lift the Eagles program to new heights. Now, after an unbelievable run through the Lower State bracket in his third year at the helm, he’s earned a matchup with the Stallions and his old buddy on Thursday night at Benedict College.
“He’s a great friend, he’s a good guy. I left a program that I really liked because I felt strongly about what DeVonte was doing here,” Lybrand said. “I’ve got a ton of respect for him, and I know he’s got a great football team, so we’ve gotta be ready to go.”