Orangeburg, SC – After coming so close to their goal of winning a state title in 2022, the Oceanside Landsharks returned to the Class AA state championship game last night at South Carolina State’s Dawson Stadium and completed the job with a 35-28 victory over former Pinnacle Charter Academies sister school Grey Collegiate Academy.
It was the first football state title for the Landsharks and the first for any school from Charleston County since Middleton High won a title in 1982. It was the first football championship for a school from Mt. Pleasant since Moultrie won in 1950, 73 years ago.
“I am immensely proud of our coaches and players for the work it took to accomplish this historic night for Oceanside Collegiate Academy,” OCA principal Christina Brown said. “The invaluable lessons and camaraderie this team has gained will continue to impact their future paths and our community that supports them.”
The road to the state title for the Landsharks (12-2) was not an easy one. An early loss to unbeaten South Florence (14-0), which will play for a Class AAAA title on Saturday, and another to Class AAAAA Sumter in September had OCA with a 3-2 record going into October.
OCA won its last four consecutive regular season games before embarking on a dominant playoff run, but that run came without senior quarterback Edward Reidenbach, who suffered a season-ending injury in the final game of the regular season.
Without Reidenbach, it was the Landsharks’ defense leading the way, posting consecutive shutout victories – over Lee Central (42-0) and Woodland (49-0) in the first two rounds of the playoffs before dropping Barnwell 43-6 to advance to the South State championship.
The Landsharks earned a return to the state title game with a hard-fought, come-from-behind, 42-21 victory over Hampton County. In that game, it was freshman quarterback Aiden Manavian who shined, passing for four touchdowns, with three of those coming in the third quarter as OCA stormed from behind.
"Through every single hurdle that we have had, our kids have continued to fight through every event," Oceanside head coach Chad Wilkes told ABC 4’s Scott Eisberg following the win over Hampton County. "We really feel like we are hitting our stride, and we are excited to play."
Thursday’s state title game didn’t go as planned as the OCA coaches and staff were informed prior to the game that senior captain Ben Britton, a star linebacker, would not be allowed to play in the game in a decision made by South Carolina State University and the SCHSL over a social media post.
That stunning news was followed by Gray Collegiate jumping out to an early 14-0 lead thanks to a long scoring drive and a turnover by the OCA offense in the redzone.
“When we were down 14, I just told them the same thing, that we have been here before, we have been here plenty of times since I have been here, but these kids never quit, and they never wavered,” OCA head coach Chad Wilkes said. “I really didn’t have to say anything because our seniors were going up and down the sideline reassuring the younger guys that we have been here before and it is no big deal.”
The Landsharks cut into the deficit in the second quarter when junior receiver/quarterback Will Virgilio capped a nine-play drive for OCA with a 1-yard plunge into the end zone.
“They just keep fighting, that has been our motto all year,” Wilkes said. “No matter if we are up 14 or down 14, we just keep punching. Even in the games we lost, they kept punching the entire time. I am so proud of these kids because of the way they show up every single day and outwork people.”
OCA came out strong to start the second half, driving 62 yards in just four plays with junior Gavin Gaspar hauling in a pass from Manavian, covering 35 yards for the tying score.
The Landsharks’ defense got in on the action to give OCA its first lead when junior linebacker Max Moorman stepped in front of a pass and returned his interception 22 yards for a pick six and the first lead of the game for Oceanside.
The rest of the game was a slugfest, with each team answering every time the other scored.
Gray used a long kickoff return to the Oceanside 26-yard line following the interception and tied the game at 21 on the first play following the return.
The Landsharks responded with another long drive, covering 70-yards in nine plays, with Garspar going the final 36 yards on a pass from Manavian.
Gray once again answered, this time with a long drive of 10 plays covering 61 yards to knot the score at 28 with 5:47 left to play.
Oceanside’s offense was able to answer one final time, mounting an 11-play drive that covered 71 yards and used 4:21 off the game clock. Included in that drive was a crucial conversion on fourth down and six from the Gray 26.
“The big play was the fourth down,” Wilkes said. “We called a timeout to get it kicked because we were right at the edge of our range. We missed one earlier, so we decided to run the offense back out there and made the fourth and six. We knew we had a good play called that we had been saving for that specific situation, just a little curl flat concept against the way they were playing into the boundary. We knew it would be out there all day and just trusted our kids to go make a play and they did it.”
Manavian hooked up with Virgilio on the play for a 25-yard gain down to the Gray 1. Virgilio then dove over for the winning points with 1:26 left on the clock.
“We went (to the state championship game) last year, and we fought hard to get to this game last year, but the feeling going home after not winning the game was the worst feeling ever,” Virgilio said. “We knew when we came out here tonight that we had to win and this is the best feeling ever. It was an up and down game for us, falling behind 14-0. We were missing Ben Britton, with three captains out of the game, but we rallied because we have been through hell and back. We did so much work in the summer and throughout the season and it was all worth it when the clock hit zero.”
Gray made a valiant effort to get down the field in the final 80-plus seconds, but the Oceanside defense capped the victory with a stop on fourth down with Gray at the OCA 23-yard line with just nine seconds left on the clock, setting off the Landsharks’ celebration.
“They won this game tonight on heart,” Wilkes said. “It is not about talent because we only have one dude who benches more than 250 pounds and only three who run under a 4.85 40, but we just won a state championship because they outwork people.”
Wilkes was especially proud of the way Manavian played throughout the playoffs after stepping in for the Landsharks’ injured starter.
“I am like a fan watching this freshman play,” Wilkes said. “I told our guys on the headset that I wish I could just sit in the stands and watch him play because he is elite. He got his chance to play because of an injury to our senior, Eric Reidenbach, but when he went down, Aiden just continued to grow through every single playoff game, along with our other quarterbacks – Tanner Swisher and Will Virgilio. He just continued to grow and grow and grow, and for a freshman to do that on this stage is something special, and he is special.”
Manavian finished the state championship game with 367 yards passing, completing 31-of-43 passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Gaspar was the target on eight of those passes for 125 yards and both scores, but Virgilio (7-91) and CJ Moskos (7-71) were also frequent targets. OCA rushed for just 17 yards in the game.
“We knew going into the game that we were going to throw it around because our receivers are so good,” Wilkes said. “There is a little bit of a misconception against Gray, and Gray is a great team, and they had a huge advantage over us up front because they have a great defensive line, a great offensive line and a great running back. We felt that we would have an advantage on the edge, and I think we proved that tonight.”
Gray ran for 143 yards against the stout OCA defense, but managed to complete just 9-of-20 passes for 118 yards. Senior linebacker Miles Robinson led the Landsharks with eight tackles, including two for loss in the absence of Britton.
“We found out right before the game that we would not have Ben, and we won anyway,” Wilkes said. “That should tell you something. To a degree I am stunned, but it doesn’t surprise me because I know how hard they work and I know what great kids we have and the effort they put in every day with the amount of fight they have. We have talked all year about how we have to keep punching and they have done that all year.”
For other players who experiences the loss last year, the victory on Thursday was the end of a long road.
“This is just an electric feeling and there is nothing better,” junior running back Grayson Freeling said. “The nerves coming out here were just unbelievable, but there is nothing better than hearing that last whistle blow and hugging all your buddies because we got it done.”
And for the freshman who led the way, the culmination was all about the process it took to get to the destination.
“This feels nice,” Manavian said. “I feel like we won this game with all the things we did all season on Monday through Thursday every week. We all know that we have an outstanding defense, and we would be fine if we just played our game. We have the best defense in the state, as you could see when we stopped them on fourth down at the end.”
About Oceanside Collegiate Academy: Oceanside Collegiate Academy (OCA), located in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., serves high school students in a safe, small and family-centered setting. Our students seek the opportunity and challenge of rigorous curriculum, high academic standards and elite athletics while earning up to two years of college credit. OCA serves students in grades 9-12 using an honors curriculum in 9th and 10 grades with a dual enrollment curriculum in 11th and 12th grades