High School Football

Bobcats should be proud of success, win or lose

jjarrett@islandpacket.comNovember 13, 2011 

Kyle Waddell bounced out of the Bluffton High School football team's postgame huddle and toward a crowd of fans waiting to congratulate the Bobcats for their 48-14 win over Hartsville in the second round of the Class 3-A playoffs Friday.

His focus had already shifted from the Red Foxes to the road trip that awaits.

"We're going to the Beach," Waddell barked repeatedly as he bobbed on the balls of his feet.

Truth be told, the Bobcats have never really stopped thinking about a rematch with Myrtle Beach since a 47-0 loss in last year's Class 3-A Lower State title game, a loss that taught them how much work they still had to do to become legitimate state championship contenders.

With 12 consecutive wins since that beatdown at the Seahawks' hands last November -- all by 28 points or more -- the Bobcats think they've achieved that status.

They'll find out for sure in five more days.

"We made that our measuring stick and we've worked since that day till this coming Friday," Bluffton coach Ken Cribb said. "I guess we're going to reevaluate come Friday. We're excited for the opportunity."

The Bobcats have passed every test so far with ease. Their closest call to date, if you want to call it that, was a 42-14 home win against a Cane Bay team that is one of four teams left standing in the Class 3-A Lower State bracket.

They dismantled a Georgetown team that had allowed more than 20 points only three times all season to the tune of a 69-29 rout in the first round of the playoffs.

And even with an unusually sloppy first half Friday, they still managed to blow out a Hartsville team whose two previous losses were by a combined six points to a pair of teams that advanced to the second round of the Class 3-A playoffs.

Bluffton's offensive prowess is well-documented. Cribb's team has scored a state-best 722 points (60.2 per game). Junior quarterback C.J. Frazier has thrown 49 touchdown passes -- fifth-most in S.C. High School League history and 15 shy of Justin Worley's state record set at Northwestern last year. Senior Dimitri Lowry has been on the receiving end of 22 of those, which is three short of the mark Northwestern's Robert Joseph set a year ago.

The high-octane offense was overshadowed Friday by a tenacious defense. When the Bobcats struggled to finish drives in the first half, the defense dominated, holding Hartsville to three total yards to preserve a 14-0 halftime lead.

And when the Bobcats needed it most, the defense forced three quick turnovers -- and nine in all -- leading to three touchdowns in a span of 29 seconds that turned a tight game into a rout.

Not that the defensive dominance is anything new. Bluffton has scored 15 touchdowns on defense and special teams this season, which is one more touchdown than the Bobcats have allowed all year. Their 97 points allowed are the second lowest total in Class 3-A and the seventh best in the state.

Both the offense and the defense are considerably better than a year ago, which is why there is a very real sense that anything less than a trip to Clemson University on Dec. 5 for the Class 3-A state championship game will be remembered as a disappointment -- undefeated regular season, region title and a litany of offensive records be damned.

"This year has been great, but our goal this year was a state championship," senior center Michael Sulka said. "If we don't get that, it will be a disappointment no matter what."

Said Cribb: "That was our goal. If we don't make it, we came up short."

That's a noble but somewhat misguided notion. It's easy to forget now -- after 24 wins in the past 26 games -- that this was a program that had never had a winning season and had never hosted nor won a playoff game in its six-year history before Cribb took over last season.

Bluffton seemingly caught lightning in a bottle last year, winning its first three playoff games by a combined 12 points before that beating by Myrtle Beach, but it proved it was no fluke this season and established itself as one of the most dominant teams in the state.

Now the Bobcats are going to the Beach, and no matter what happens, their players, coaches and fans need to remember how far they had to travel to get there.

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