Defending state-champion Goose Creek lost its appeal before the S.C. High School League on Wednesday night and remains disqualified from the Class 4-A football playoffs.
As a result, instead of traveling to face the top-seeded and 12-0 Gators, Bluffton (11-1) will host Conway (5-7) at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The winner will advance to the Class 4-A Lower State championship.
Conway, the 16th seed, lost last week, 48-7, at Goose Creek. But Shrine Bowl quarterback Mykal Moody will return this week for the Tigers. He has missed the past three games with a thigh bruise.
Goose Creek coach Chuck Reedy indicated the fight might not be over.
"We're looking at our options," he told the Charleston Post and Courier by phone.
The only option at this point is the court process, and it's an avenue the school and Berkeley County School District indicated they are considering.
But, with the playoffs continuing on Friday, time is of the essence.
The High School League's Executive Committee voted 9-2 to uphold Goose Creek's ban from the playoffs for allowing an ineligible player to participate in games. Goose Creek requested a second vote, asking the committee to consider a hardship case for the student involved. That vote went 10-1 against the team. The name of the player involved was not disclosed to the media.
Wednesday's hearing came after High School League commissioner Jerome Singleton's ruling Tuesday that Goose Creek used an ineligible player and therefore was disqualified for the playoffs. He ruled the school must forfeit the 10 games in which the player dressed or participated.
Reedy said he doesn't know what he will tell his players.
"They have done everything right and don't deserve to be punished," Reedy said. "I don't know what I will say. Words won't make it any better. Nothing I will tell them will make it better."
The meeting was open to the public, but Goose Creek requested a closed session and reporters were forced to leave the room.
Jay Bender, an attorney for the S.C. Press Association, said the closed session violated the Freedom of Information Act.
"There was a lawsuit a number of years ago that determined the High School League was a public body," he said. "The closed hearing is in violation of the law. I don't understand it. It's a body that takes public money and holds private meetings. If they want to operate like that, they should become a private club."
Bender said the school was being punished, not the student.
"The player doesn't have to be identified publicly," he said.
Rodney Thompson, the Berkeley County School District superintendent, said he was proud of Reedy and his players.
"Of course, we're obviously disappointed with the decision and the impact it's going to have on the Goose Creek players and the Goose Creek community," he said. "We're going to move forward from this day on and we're going to take care of our students. That's our main concern."
Goose Creek was hoping for a fate similar to Summerville's in 2005. The Green Wave knowingly used an ineligible player on the junior varsity football team. The Executive Committee upheld Singleton's ruling but granted Summerville mercy and let the Green Wave varsity team back into the playoffs.
In the appeal, Reedy and Goose Creek principal Jimmy Huskey said they notified the league immediately upon learning that a student on the team might be ineligible. They said the school and district exercised the right to appeal based on extraordinary conditions, that there was no ill intent and no competitive advantage was gained by the team, players, coaches, staff or administration.
The ineligible player was a transfer student, and the updated student transcript record in question was received after the student was enrolled at the school. The original transcript used at the beginning of the season was incomplete. And when the student registered for winter sports, an updated transcript was used and the error was found.
The Charleston Post and Courier contributed to this report.