By Thomas Grant Jr.
ORANGEBURG | An undefeated state championship season to cap three months of issues with other public schools over competitive balance was the goal of Gray Collegiate Academy.
Denying the War Eagles a second Class 2A title was fellow charter school Oceanside Collegiate Academy.
Led by freshman quarterback Aiden Manavian, the Landsharks rallied to defeat Gray Collegiate 35-28 Thursday at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium at Willie Jeffries Field.
Gray Collegiate (14-1) jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Sophomore quarterback Tyler Waller opened the game with a 28-yard reception to South Carolina State commit Zai Offord.
He then found Jamarious Lockett for a 32-yard touchdown pass to put Gray Collegiate on the board.
Despite the absence of All-State lineman Zeb Taylor with a foot injury, the War Eagles defense sacked Manavian 10 times. One of the six first-quarter sacks resulted in a fumble which the War Eagles turned into a 4-yard touchdown by BJ Montgomery just six minutes into the game.
The Landsharks rallied back behind their freshman quarterback. Manavian began finding success throwing short passes to his wide receivers who turned them into long runs after the catch.
This set up the Landsharks’ first of two touchdown runs of a yard by Will Virgilio. The score remained 14-7 at halftime as Gray Collegiate’s Aiden Legger intercepted Manavian in the endzone for a touchdown late in the second quarter.
Oceanside Collegiate (12-2) opened the second half with 14 unanswered points. Manavian threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to Gavin Gasper on the opening series and Max Moorman returned an interception 22 yards to put the Landsharks up 21-14.
A 50-yard kickoff return by Blaine Redmond set up a 23-yard touchdown ass by Waller to Zion Job to tie the game. Manavian answered back with a 36-yard touchdown pass to Gaspar with 33 seconds left in the third quarter to reclaim the lead.
An interception by Redmond got the ball back for the War Eagles. Waller converted two critical first-down passes to set up a 14-yard touchdown run by Montgomery with 5:47 left in the game to make it 28-28.
The Landsharks drove the football to the Gray Collegiate 21 with 2:05 left. After initially lining up for a 43-yard field goal, Oceanside Collegiate opted to go for the first down.
Manavian found Virgilio for a 25-yard reception to set up his second touchdown run. He finished with 367 passing yards.
Gray Collegiate mounted a final drive but was forced to turn the ball over on downs at the Oceanside Collegiate 23 with nine seconds left.
“At the end of the day, we are playing for a state title,” Gray Collegiate head coach Adam Holmes said. “We wanted to come here and win it. That was the goal from the get-go. But I am proud of these guys, the way they fought everything they faced this year. We just came up a little bit short.”
Photos by Thomas Grant Jr. – Gray Collegiate Academy makes its entrance onto Willie Jeffries Field at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium.