HILTON HEAD ISLAND — The only thing different about this script were the characters.
Despite losing star tailback Khalil Lewis to a left ankle sprain early in the first half, Hilton Head Island stuck to its winning ways Friday night with a workmanlike 27-13 victory over James Island.
“We’ve got other guys who are stepping in,” Hilton Head coach B.J. Payne said. “Next man in. Obviously that was a big loss for us tonight, but at the same time we faced adversity and rallied back. We played hard and played some defense.”
James Island took a 7-3 lead in the first quarter as Jordan McDaniel hauled in a 55-yard touchdown reception from Ty Stubbs. Hutch Fontaine had a pair of field goals, his second one a 42-yard in the second quarter to cut the Seahawks’ lead to 16-10.
But it was Hilton Head’s defense that ultimately pushed the No. 8 Seahawks to 7-0 overall and 2-0 in Region 8-AAA play. Led by Shrine Bowler Poona Ford, Hilton Head shut out James Island in the second half thanks in part to an 0-for-10 effort on third down. The Trojans (1-6, 0-2) also finished with just 29 yards on the ground, and a mere 1.3-yard average per carry.
“That’s all we did, is focus on getting off the field on third down,” Ford said. “Preserve energy, get back on the field and get another stop.”
The Louisville commit teamed with a handful of young tailbacks to preserve the victory, as seven Hilton Head High rushers combined for 255 yards on 60 carries. The two-way senior highlighted the effort with a trio of touchdowns, the last of which put the Seahawks up by two possessions in the final minute.
Freshman Tyler Hamilton added 67 yards while sophomore Tyliek Smith tacked on 31 key yards late in the fourth quarter. Lewis still led the way with 85 yards, all of which came on the Seahawks’ first three possessions. Chase Rinehart, James Wiggins and quarterback Ben Oliff also had carries.
Their efforts were rewarded by Ford and kicker Savannah Reier, who tacked on a pair of field goals from 28 and 37 yards out.
“The kids prepared hard and we had a good week this week of practice,” Payne said. “It paid off tonight, because things aren’t going to always go the way you planned. They faced adversity tonight.”
The victory likely clinched at worst a road playoff game for the Seahawks, who earned a postseason berth a year ago with just a pair of region wins. But Hilton Head has bigger goals this season, which will continue over the next two weeks against No. 10 Orangeburg-Wilkinson and No. 3 Hanahan.
Those two teams both tacked on league victories Friday night to improve to a combined 13-1. But that likely won’t daunt the Seahawks, who are off to their best start since 1987.
“We just work hard,” said safety Nick Cooper, who recorded an interception of Trojans quarterback Stubbs. “It comes with preparation in practice. Everything Coach Payne says, we trust it and we believe it. That’s why we’re out here 7-0.”
James Island 7 6 0 0—13
Hilton Head High 10 6 3 8—27
HHH — Savannah Reier 28 FG
JI — Jordan McDaniel 55 catch from Ty Stubbs (Hutch Fontaine)
HHH — Poona Ford 3 run (Reier kick)
JI — Hutch Fontaine 32 FG
HHH — Ford 5 run (kick failed)
JI — Fontaine 42 FG
HHH — Reier 37 FG
HHH — Ford 4 run (Ja’Carri Aiken catch)