Tommy Lewis has and always will give his Hilton Head Christian Academy football players the freedom to make their own decisions. It's how the Eagles' head man coaches.
So when Brad Meccariello opted for a fake punt late in the fourth quarter with the Eagles backed up deep in their own territory, Lewis didn't hesitate.
"I gave Brad the green light to call it. I trust my guys, whether it's Brad or (quarterback) Caleb (Lewis) making a call. ... We feel like we prepare them during the week and if they need to make adjustments out on the field they (can) make them."
Good thing, too. Meccariello sprung a block on the Eagles' sideline that propelled punter Tyler Chisholm to a 32-yard gain, and one play later found Brandon Qualls streaking down the sideline for a 21-yard touchdown, as the Eagles powered their way to a 20-13 upset of undefeated Thomas Heyward.
The win marked the seventh in a row for Hilton Head Christian, which took the inside track to a fourth consecutive region title. The Rebels, meanwhile, fell to 8-1 after an unprecented start to the season.
"They've been hunting for us and we knew it," said Meccariello, who also added a third-quarter interception. "But we found a way to pull through."
It didn't appear that way through the first three quarters, though. Hilton Head Christian (7-1) went just 2 of 6 in the red zone, ran only three offensive plays in the third quarter and finished with four fumbles on the night. But the Eagles managed to gut it out over the final 12 minutes before Jamario Williams sealed the win by picking off quarterback J.D. Tuten in the end zone with nine seconds left.
The Rebels had driven 76 yards over the final four minutes, thanks in part to three big catches from receiver Bryan Lee Wade, before Williams ended things with the turnover off a deflection. He did so with coaches from North Carolina and Elon scouting him in the stands, he said.
"We knew that if we came out and laid down they would be region champs," Williams said. "We had to play a hard game. That's what we came to do."
Thomas Heyward, meanwhile, was left lamenting what could have been. The Rebels played the majority of the second half without Tuten at the helm, as he came in and out of the rotation thanks to a nagging foot injury. With half of their star backfield out of the game, coach Nic Shuford and Co. turned to tailback Ryan Day, who carried the load during most of the second half.
"Thomas Heyward has two main guys that make their engine run. That's Day and Tuten," Lewis said. "Half the horsepower was down."
Day finished with 234 yards on 36 carries and a pair of touchdowns, the second of which came on a 41-yard dash that gave the Rebels a 13-12 lead late in the third quarter.
"We've just got to rebuild and hopefully get better next week," Day said. "Hopefully we'll see those guys in a couple of weeks."
Day just may get that second shot. Both programs appear to be at the top of SCISAA Class 2-A, and each side left Friday night wondering if the game was a primer for a state title game rematch.
Williams is certainly counting on it.
"I think we might win the state championship," he said. "That's the goal."
Hilton Head Christian 20, Thomas Heyward 13
Thomas Heyward 6 0 7 0 -- 13
Hilton Head Christian 0 12 0 8 -- 20
THA--Ryan Day 8 rush (Jason Quick kick failed), 1:12.
HHCA--Clay Oliver safety, 8:53.
HHCA--Tyler Chisholm 24 kick, 7:12.
HHCA--Chisholm 57 rush (Chisholm kick), 5:15.
THA--Day 41 rush (J.D. Tuten kick), 3:51.
HHCA--Brandon Qualls 21 catch from Brad Meccariello (Jamario Williams catch), 4:30.
First Downs 21 15
Rushes-Yards 46-234 26-149
Comp-Att-Int 8-16-2 14-23-0
Passing Yards 134 206
Punts-Avg 1-38 2-38
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 4-4
Penalties-Yards 5-45 10-85
Third-Down Conv 3-9 4-10
Fourth-Down Conv 1-2 1-3
PASSING: Thomas Heyward -- J.D. Tuten 7-15-2-130, Davis Owens 1-1-0-4; HHCA -- Caleb Lewis 13-22-0-185, Brad Meccariello 1-1-0-21.
RUSHING: Thomas Heyward -- Ryan Day 36-234, Davis Owens 2-7, Jared Rountree 1-(-1), Bryan Lee Wade 1-0, J.D. Tuten 6-(-6); HHCA -- Tyler Chisholm 16-134, Jamario Williams 2-11, Brad Meccariello 3-9, DeAngelo Clark 3-9, Caleb Lewis 3-(-14).
RECEIVING: Thomas Heyward -- Bryan Lee Wade 4-75, Ryan Day 1-20, Seth Jones 1-19, Andrew Fowler 1-10, Forrest Richardson 1-10; HHCA -- Ryan Barrett 2-55, Brandon Qualls 3-48, Jamario Williams 4-43, Brad Meccariello 2-40, Zach Polk 2-15, DeAngelo Clark 1-5.