COLUMBIA -- There was no panic in the eyes of Brad Meccariello.
It didn't matter that all the momentum he and his Hilton Head Christian Academy teammates had built over the first three quarters Saturday in the SCISAA Class 2-A championship went by the wayside with a single play. It didn't matter that his Eagles, who had led since kickoff, suddenly trailed thanks to a shocking 95-yard touchdown reception by Thomas Heyward star Ryan Day.
Instead, the junior standout turned to his quarterback, Caleb Lewis, and uttered one simple phrase: Get me the ball.
Lewis obliged. Meccariello tallied a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to help Hilton Head Christian reclaim the lead before sealing a 29-22 victory over Thomas Heyward with an interception deep in Eagles territory with just over a minute to play. Meccariello's late-game heroics helped seal Hilton Head Christian's second consecutive state championship and fourth in seven years.
"I wanted the ball so bad," Meccariello said, struggling to find his breath. "I took it on myself that we needed to get it in. It was in my hands."
The Eagles (12-1) had led from the outset thanks to touchdowns from receiver Jamario Williams and running back Tyler Chisholm. But things turned after intermission, when the Rebels (12-2) erased a 16-6 halftime deficit with a pair of third quarter touchdowns. J.D. Tuten pulled Thomas Heyward within two on a 2-yard touchdown run on the opening drive of the half before the quarterback hit Day over the top of the Eagles defense with the 95-yard bomb on the ensuing possession.
"I thought that was the game," a teary-eyed Tuten said. "We had the momentum, it was about to shift. I thought we were about to win the game right there."
Meccariello had other ideas. The two-way standout jump-started the rally by taking a screen pass 24 yards to the end zone, pulling the game into a 22-all stalemate. Three possessions later, after his defense forced a three-and-out, Meccariello returned a punt 27 yards to the Rebels' 11 before running it in on the next play, giving his team a lead it would not relinquish.
"He's not just a warrior, and it's not just the fight in him, but he's also an incredibly talented and gifted athlete," coach Tommy Lewis said. "When you put those two things together it makes for a winner. And the other guys feed off of that."
Things weren't settled just yet, though. In a situation eerily similar to the one in the teams' regular-season meeting, the Rebels took control of the ball with just over five minutes remaining with a chance to pull ahead or take the lead on the final drive of the night.
"I thought this was the one," Tuten said. "We had the same scenario. We had the drive to win."
But the outcome was just the same. Williams had preserved the first victory with an interception in the end zone, and Meccariello followed that script on Saturday, sending the Eagles to their second victory of the season over their rivals from Jasper County.
"It showed our team's character that we were able to come out against a great team twice and (win)," said Caleb Lewis, who finished 18 of 27 for 269 yards and a pair of touchdowns. "Once in the state championship and once for the region championship."
The Rebels once again left lamenting what might have been. Tuten, forced into third-and-longs by the Eagles defense, threw an uncharacteristic four interceptions on 6 of 15 passing. The turnovers ended up overshadowing the 290 yards he and Day combined for on the ground.
"I'm proud of the guys, but we should have won it," receiver Bryan Lee Wade said. "We certainly think we should have done it."
Thomas Heyward, whose only losses this season came at the hands of Hilton Head Christian, fell just short of earning its first state title since 1981. The Eagles, meanwhile, will shoot for an unprecedented third consecutive title in 2013.
"It means a lot, because it's something these kids, this team, put on the board as a goal," Tommy Lewis said. "To be honest, nobody was giving them a chance at the beginning of the year. But they knew this could be the first time that an HHCA team repeated. That's the best part of it."
And they can thank Meccariello's late-game heroics for it.
"All I know is I was not losing that game," he said.
Hilton Head Christian 29, Thomas Heyward 22
Thomas Heyward 0 6 16 0 -- 22
Hilton Head Christian 7 9 0 13 -- 29
HHCA--Jamario Williams 36 pass from Caleb Lewis (Tyler Chisholm kick), 10:12.
HHCA--Chisholm 14 run (kick failed), 8:35.
THA--Ryan Day 58 run (run failed), 4:06.
HHCA--Chisholm 21 kick, 0:23.
THA--J.D. Tuten 2 run (Day run), 7:06.
THA--Day 95 pass from Tuten (Nick Keiffer run), 1:25.
HHCA--Brad Meccariello 24 pass from Lewis (pass failed), 11:17.
HHCA--Meccariello 11 run (Chisholm kick), 8:30.
First Downs 11 19
Rushes-Yards 43-287 21-91
Comp-Att-Int 6-15-4 18-30-2
Passing Yards 155 269
Punts-Avg 2-16 1-55
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-0
Penalties-Yards 4-21 2-20
Third-Down Conv 6-14 4-9
Fourth-Down Conv 1-4 0-1
PASSING: THA -- J.D. Tuten 6-15-4-155, TD; HHCA -- Caleb Lewis 18-27-2-269, Brad Meccariello 0-3-0-0.
RUSHING: THA -- Ryan Day 28-163, J.D. Tuten 12-127, Jared Rountree 2-0, Bryan Lee Wade 1-(-3); HHCA -- Brad Meccariello 7-41, DeAngelo Clark 4-39, Tyler Chisholm 6-19, Caleb Lewis 4-(-8).
RECEIVING: THA -- Ryan Day 2-100, Bryan Lee Wade 3-55; HHCA -- Jamario Williams 6-135, Brad Meccariello 8-82, Zach Polk 3-44, Ryan Barrett 1-8.