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Rebels ready to tackle goal: SCISA state-title run

Thomas Heyward is ready for its run at a SCISA Class A state championship.

The Rebels enter the playoffs on a seven-game winning streak after they beat host Colleton Prep last Friday 29-14 to clinch the Region 2-A crown.

“This is something these guys will always remember, a region championship and who knows what else,” Thomas Heyward coach Nic Shuford said.

Thomas Heyward (8-2) earned a No. 1 seed and at 7:30 p.m. Friday will host Region 1-A No. 4 seed Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach (6-4), which is on a two-game winning streak and averages 32.9 points scored and 32.1 points allowed per game.

A win propels Thomas Heyward into a Nov. 10 state semifinal against the Colleton Prep-Pee Dee winner. The state final is Nov. 18 at Charles Johnson Stadium in Columbia.

The Rebels led 16-0 against Colleton Prep, but needed a big scoring pass and a crucial interception in the fourth quarter to secure the school’s first region title since 2007.

The Rebels scored first on a seven-play, 65-yard drive. J.R. Patterson had 63 yards rushing on the drive, including a 25-yard touchdown. C.J. Cleland’s extra point made it 7-0.

THA went ahead 13-0 after an 11-play, 90-yard drive culminated in Patterson’s 10-yard run on fourth down. The two-point conversion pass failed. Patterson finished with 207 yards rushing.

Cleland’s 31-yard field goal with 3:47 remaining in the half gave THA a 16-0 lead, but Colleton Prep pulled to within 16-8 on the last play of the half when it scored a 20-yard touchdown on a fourth-down screen pass and ran for a two-point conversion.

The Rebels dropped several passes that could have sustained drives, and the Warhawks took advantage of the miscues by cutting the lead to 16-14 with 9:14 remaining in the fourth.

Colleton Prep (4-5, 2-2) had momentum and the home crowd on its side, but Patterson returned the ensuing kickoff 27 yards into Colleton Prep territory and on second-and-8 from the Warhawk 44 the Rebels converted their biggest offensive play of the game.

Shuford called a T-Fade, which sent receiver Bobby Payne streaking down the right sideline. Quarterback Logan Thomas had time to get set and loft a pass perfectly into Payne’s arms as he raced into the end zone for a score that extended the lead to 22-14.

“We liked that matchup with Bobby,” Shuford said. “They were playing press coverage on him with nobody over the top. We’ll take that matchup all day.”

Thomas (8-15, 154 yards) struggled at times – he threw two interceptions – but Shuford said he never lost confidence in his senior quarterback, who has thrown 15 touchdowns this season.

“Logan’s a gamer,” Shuford said. “I’m not going to let one or two picks change the way we call the game with him back there. We’ve got confidence he can make all the throws and he did when we needed it.”

Dalton Steedley had an interception with 1:23 to go and, after a turnover, Bryce Tillotson sealed the win with an interception return for a touchdown with 40 seconds left that put Thomas Heyward ahead 29-14.

“To make that play in that moment … Bryce Tillotson’s an athlete,” assistant Mike Heath said. “That’s him making a great play.”

Zach Bond led the defense with 13 tackles. Tillotson added 10 tackles.

Heath said winning the region accomplished one goal.

“This was our goal,” Heath said. “Now we are on to the next goal.”

Shuford thinks the team’s struggles against Colleton Prep will serve as a reminder that nothing will be easy in the playoffs. Thomas Heyward is averaging 35 points per game and allowing 17.3 points per game.

“I hope this is a little bit of a wakeup call, realizing that we are not invincible just because we are on a roll here,” he said.

“If we don’t play well, teams can sneak up on you and beat you.”

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