High School Football

Week Zero: Bluffton, Whale Branch get it started with first meeting

Three football games on schedule for opening week of season

info@islandpacket.comAugust 17, 2012 

Bluffton players go after a fumble during last season's game against now-defunct Hardeeville High School. Bluffton High opens the 2012 football season tonight at home against Whale Branch.

FILE -- THE ISLAND PACKET

Ken Cribb is well aware of the history that will be made tonight at Bobcats Stadium.

The Bluffton High School football coach has made sure to scrimmage nearby Whale Branch Early College High School during each of the last two preseasons, as the Warriors continued to build up their new football program. But the two schools have yet to face each other in in the regular season.

Not anymore. This time, the matchup will be about much more than establishing a depth chart or getting young kids playing time.

This time it counts.

"If they were to beat Bluffton, it'd make their season," Cribb said. "It would be a premier win for them, and we know that. ... We're a 4-A school and we've had two great years. That's great motivation for their kids. That gives them some edge."

The Bobcats have gotten the better of Whale Branch during each of those scrimmages, but Bluffton heads into tonight's season opener with some question marks that may provide some optimism for the visiting Warriors and first-year coach Jerry Hatcher.

Four Bluffton players, including starting linebacker Rogan Ferguson and corner Jeremy Scott, head into the opener with questionable statuses after sustaining minor injuries. But Cribb believes he has the athletes in place to make up for any potential personnel losses.

"We've got guys in position to play," he said.

The Bobcats, much like they always do, plan on coming out at full-throttle in the hopes of putting away the Warriors early, avoiding any chance for a potential upset in the process. Cribb said he is expecting big performances some of his new skill position players like Marquis Webber, Gerald Roberson and Vinny Boni.

"Coming out the gate and do what we do," is important, Cribb said. "It doesn't really matter what Whale Branch does, to be honest, as far as we're concerned. We've got to do what we do. If we do what we're good at and have success at it, it doesn't matter. We'll be OK."

Had this game been played a year ago, Cribb would have had a good idea of what to expect from Whale Branch, at least on offense. Warriors coaches met with Cribb before the 2011 season to adopt portions of his offense.

Little is the same from the previous season.

Former Whale Branch assistant coach Dean Hawkins is now an assistant under Cribb. And with the Warriors graduating a lot of speed and Hatcher bringing a more straight-forward style, the teams shouldn't look similar on offense.

Hatcher cited the disparity in numbers between the programs and is wary of the Bobcats' high-powered system.

"We've got our hands full," Hatcher said. "Our kids realize that. We'll go over there and play. That's why you set it up on a tee -- play the game and see what happens."

TONIGHT'S OTHER GAMES

Hammond School (12-1 in 2011) at Hilton Head Christian Academy (13-0 in 2011), 7 p.m.

Last meeting: Hammond 35, HHCA 6 (2007)

The skinny: Both teams enter the 2012 season preparing to defend their SCISAA state championships. The Skyhawks, who return 18 of 22 starters from a year ago, have won six consecutive titles at the 3-A level while the Eagles have appeared in five of the last six title games.

Players to watch: Eagles coach Tommy Lewis knows his team needs to control the clock to have a chance at the upset, so look for running backs Tyler Chisholm and Brad Meccariello to get a heavy dose of the football. For the Skyhawks, senior Jake Nidiffer returns for his second season as quarterback, and he'll like look to one of his favorite targets early and often in 6-5 junior tight end Cannon Smith, who is committed to Clemson.

Key to the game: Hilton Head Christian has to play mistake-free and will need to pick up a big play or two, whether it be on offense or by way of a defensive score. Winning the turnover battle will be crucial for the Eagles. "If we can do those things," Lewis says, "that's when upsets happen."

Thomas Heyward (9-2 in 2011) at Orangeburg Prep (7-5 in 2011), 7:30 p.m.

Last meeting: Orangeburg Prep 20, Thomas Heyward 12 (2009)

The skinny: Both teams made the SCISAA playoffs last season. The Indians fell 13-10 to Porter-Gaud in the first round of the Class 3-A playoffs, while the Rebels fell 28-7 to Thomas Sumter in the second round of the Class 2-A playoffs.

Players to watch: The Rebels lean toward the run, keeping the ball on the ground roughly 60 percent of the time. That means it'll spend a lot of time in the hands of three seniors -- quarterback JD Tuten, running back Ryan Day and running back Hayden Daley. Along with strong-man senior Nick Kiefer on the defensive line, Day will be one to watch on defense, as well, in his first start at linebacker. For the Indians, senior Reed Grubbs is the new quarterback trying to fill the shoes of 2011 Times & Democrat Region Offensive Player of the Year Sean Odom, who graduated. He was 2-1 last season in spot duty while Odom was injured. Junior wide-out Derek Andrews can stretch the field vertically.

Key to the game: This game is going to come down to the play on the line of scrimmage. If the Rebels' almost all-new offensive line isn't up to the task, it could be a rough night for Tuten, Day and Co. On the flip side, the Rebels defensive line can't let itself be controlled by the Indians' offensive line, which returns four starters, or Orangeburg Prep will have all night to execute their spread offense.

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