Thomas Heyward routed visiting Dillon Christian 48-20 on Friday in the SCISA Class A semifinals to advance to the state championship game and play for its third consecutive title.
The Rebels (11-1) will face Lee Academy (9-3) on Saturday at Charleston Southern University.
Brandon Howard set the tone on the opening drive. After an errant snap, Howard brought down Hayden Hickman in the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 lead.
Bruzza Pusha returned the free kick to the Dillon 11, setting up Howard’s 1-yard touchdown run. Dietrich Shuford ran for a two-point conversion to make it 10-0.
Then Jeremy Clemmer recovered a fumble on the kickoff to give the Rebels the ball on the Dillon 18. After a pair of penalties put the Rebels in a third-and-20, Pusha took a screen from Peyton Bennett and ran 19 yards for a fourth-and-1 at the 9.
On fourth down, J.R. Patterson ran 9 yards for a touchdown and a 16-0 lead.
Late in the first quarter, Pusha high-jumped in the end zone to grab an 11-yard touchdown pass from Bennett for a 22-0 lead.
Bennett split time with Pusha in a platoon situation at quarterback during last season’s championship run. This year Bennett has the quarterback job full time, while Pusha does his damage from different angles.
“Bruzza’s the best receiver in SCISA,” Bennett said. “It’s my opinion, but when Bruzza plays, we’ve got the best player on the field.”
The first quarter ended when the Warriors’ Cameron Sweat threw deep to the left — and the Rebels’ Jordan Mikell intercepted.
Anthony Fripp opened the second quarter with a 63-yard run, and two plays later Howard ran 12 yards for a touchdown and a 28-0 lead.
In 2017, Mikell was on the other end of a long pass play when he played for the youth flag football league in Jasper County. With the Falcons trailing the Dolphins 10-6 on the last play of the game, Mikell hit Ty’shon Mansell on a long bomb for a touchdown and a 12-10 victory. The Falcons’ other touchdown in that 2017 game was scored by Cutter Williams, who also currently plays for the Rebels.
“Every player’s important,” Bennett said. “We play as a team, and we win as a team.”
Also scoring touchdowns for the Rebels were Preston Humbert, Anthony Fripp and Patterson. Howard added a two-point conversion.
With the Warriors fighting back on three touchdown passes by Sweat — and with the game getting heated at times — the Rebels are mindful of the task ahead.
“Too many flags,” Anthony Fripp said. “We need to play a cleaner game.”
“The second-string unit gave up some big plays,” Kelan Fripp said. “We have to play better.”
“I need to land some of my kicks in better spots,” said Anthony Fripp, who also handles the kickoffs. “As a runner, I want better field vision.”
With some teams having their seasons impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic — and other teams having no season at all — the Rebels are grateful to play.
“This one would mean the most,” Bennett, a senior, said of the prospects of winning a third state championship. “During the summer, we weren’t sure what was gonna happen with the COVID-19 situation.”
“We are blessed to be able to play,” coach Nic Shuford said. “A third championship wouldn’t mean more, but it would sure mean a lot.”
Hilton Head Christian will also play for a title Saturday in Charleston after it beat Pee Dee Academy 63-14 in the Class AA semifinals.
The Eagles (11-0) will take on Carolina Academy in the title game. HHCA lost to Trinity-Byrnes in overtime in last year’s state final.
In the SCHSL playoffs, May River’s season came to an end Friday in the Class AAAA first round.
The Sharks (3-2) fell at North Augusta 20-13 in overtime.