By Thomas Grant Jr.
A season filled with controversy and uncertainty has Gray Collegiate Academy headed back to a state championship game already raising eyebrows.
The War Eagles dethroned defending champion Abbeville 27-12 to win the Class 2A Upper State final.
They will make their second championship appearance in three years in the final against fellow charter school Oceanside Collegiate (11-2). The game will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium on Willie Jeffries Field in Orangeburg.
“It means everything. What these guys have been through all year,” said Gray Collegiate coach Adam Holmes, whose coaching career started at Orangeburg Prep. “We maybe were going to have a four-game schedule. But at the end of the day, our guys persevered. Football teaches you how to face adversity and our football team faced adversity. We went out and played great football teams and it got us ready for nights like this. (Abbeville) set the precedent for 2A and that’s what we’re working to be and get on that level.”
An early touchdown pass on a halfback option pass by Jha’Louis Hadden to Karson Norman gave the Panthers a 6-0 lead. Gray Collegiate tied the game at 6-6 before halftime on a 7-yard touchdown pass by Tyler Waller to Blaine Redmond.
It took a 13-6 lead in the third quarter on an 18-yard touchdown pass by Tyler Waller to Jamarious Lockett. He finished with six catches for 103 yards.
After an 80-yard touchdown run by Demarcus Leach brought Abbeville to within 13-12, B.J. Montgomery returned the kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown to put the War Eagles (14-3, 14-0 in the S.C. High School League) up 20-12.
Montgomery, who finished with 96 rushing yards, added a 5-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to clinch the win.
Oceanside Collegiate, which defeated Hampton County in the Lower State final, holds a 3-2 edge in the series with Gray Collegiate. They met in the season opener last year with the Landsharks winning 48-20.
It’s the third meeting for a state title in a South Carolina High School League sport in the past nine months. Gray Collegiate won in boys’’ basketball, while Oceanside Collegiate took the baseball title.
Throughout the season, non-charter schools have criticized what they believe are the competitive advantages both Gray Collegiate and Oceanside Collegiate hold. This has led to numerous meetings and discussions by the SCHSL regarding moving up the schools in classifications using a multiplier formula.
Gray Collegiate also saw its fellow region teams opt to forfeit its scheduled games against them in most of the team sports. This led to the War Eagles scheduling four out-of-state games where they were 1-3.
The SCHSL only recognizes the 14 in-state games, giving Gray Collegiate an undefeated record.
Photo by George Matsui