High School Football

Week Zero preview: Bluffton's depth to test 1-A Whale Branch in opener

Five area teams kick off football season in first week

sfastenau@beaufortgazette.com, ccox@islandpacket.comAugust 23, 2013 

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The Bluffton Bobcats visit Whale Branch for the season opener Friday night, but they won't have Vinny Boni (8), who reportedly was injured in practice Thursday night.

SARAH WELLIVER — File -- The Island Packet

Jerry Hatcher knows there will be a point Friday night when the numbers game will work against his Whale Branch Early College High School football team.

The Warriors' second-year head coach believes in his players, know they match up well strength-wise with Bluffton High School. But there aren't enough of them, he said.

For Class 1-A Whale Branch to compete against the 4-A Bobcats, it will have to survive many of the Warriors playing both ways on the line and in the secondary for four quarters.

From the home sideline, Hatcher will watch Bluffton platoon fresh bodies on offense and defense.

Hatcher told the Warriors during practice this week how much they have improved from one scrimmage to the next. But the reality will loom large Friday.

"We've still got a long way to go," Hatcher said. "It's still 1-A versus 4-A, man."

The only players likely to go both ways for Bluffton and coach Ken Cribb are his star defensive linemen, Shameik Blackshear and K.J. Ford, who dot the Bobcats' new "Thunder" package. Cribb is hopeful his depth advantage can wear down the Warriors through four quarters.

"I hope so, that's the plan," he said. "If you can platoon without dropping off ability-wise, it sure helps a lot. If you drop off ability-wise, then it actually hurts."

Whale Branch could be without defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney, who sprained his knee during practice Tuesday. Hatcher said the diagnosis was more favorable than the initial scare but that he didn't expect Pinckney to play.

Warriors junior quarterback Devonta Glover started the 2012 opener at Bluffton for injured senior Brandon Morton, Glover's only other varsity start.

Now the undisputed starter entering Week Zero, Glover again will be thrown against a talented Bluffton defense that Hatcher said has shown more aggressiveness in 2013.

"He's gotten better," Hatcher said. "I'd rather be playing a weak 1-A school to get him ready for it, but the schedule is what it is."

The Bobcats looked like they would open the season without any major injuries, but leading returning receiver Vinny Boni was apparently injured in practice Thursday. However, Cribb wouldn't confirm any injuries before hearing from the doctor.

"We'll know tomorrow," Cribb said, "but I don't want to say anything that I don't know for sure."

"I wanna thank everybody for being there for me," Boni posted to Twitter on Thursday night. "It means a lot. But to my boys playing tomorrow, TURN UP!!!! #BobcatNation"

The key for Bluffton will be winning the turnover battle and getting out to an early lead under new signal-caller Alex Davis, who continues to get his feet wet after the departure of C.J. Frazier.

"Coming out of the gates is going to be important," he said. "Turnovers could be a big factor, having them or not having them."

TONIGHT'S OTHER GAMES

Orangeburg Prep at Thomas Heyward Academy, 7:30 p.m.

Last meeting: Thomas Heyward won, 14-6 (2012)

The skinny: The Rebels are a little bit of an unknown. With the graduation of standouts J.D. Tuten, Ryan Day, Bryan Lee Wade, Nick Kiefer and Zach Newton, it's hard to know if those next in line can play at as high a level. A SCISAA 3-A team should prove a worthy test.

Players to watch: For the Rebels, Davis Owens faces the tall task of replacing Tuten. He saw enough action last season, however, to have a good grasp of what coach Nic Shuford is trying to accomplish. The Indians return some playmaking seniors on offense. QB Marion McCurry passed for 1,472 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, adding seven scores on the ground. His chief target is 6-foot-3 senior wide-out Derek Adams, who made 53 catches for 1,018 yards and 12 touchdowns. Adams also led the Indians with five interceptions.

Keys to the game: The Rebels have two main concerns. The offensive line must work well as a unit for Owens to succeed runnign the offense. Second, the young Thomas Heyward secondary -- no upperclassmen in the back four -- must gel quickly and stop the Indians passign attack. If the Rebels can't do reasonably well at both these tasks, it could be a long night.

Ridgeland-Hardeeville at Savannah Country Day, 7:30 p.m.

Last meeting: Ridgeland-Hardeeville won, 16-13 (2012)

The skinny: This will be the first game for the Jaguars' new spread offense under coordinator Eddie Johnson and it will be interesting to see how it goes. The Jaguars won a close one last year after two rough losses for their first victory of the year. A win here would be a nice springboard for Blake Raley's squad with Class 3-A Hilton Head Island and 4-A Bluffton on the horizon.

Players to watch: Jaguars QB D.J. Myers made only 52 pass attempts all of last season. This year, running the spread offense, that number is expected to go up. While he's not the only student of the new offense, it's vital he be at the top of the class. For the Hornets, Senior wide-out Ben Johnson caught 80 passes for 1,032 yards and five scores last season. RB Oliver Cesar didn't have big numbers for the season, but he did rush for 138 yards against the Jaguars. The Hornets are breaking in a new QB in Noah Shanklin.

Keys to the game: If the Jaguars defense can keep the Hornets in check, it would go a long way in taking pressure off the still-learning offense. Given time, the Jaguars have enough athletes on offense to run the spread effectively.

Hilton Head Christian at Hammond School, 7:30 p.m.

Last meeting: Hammond School won, 37-0 (2012)

The skinny: Friday night's matchup marks the head coaching debut of Eagles coach Ryan Mitch, who takes over for Tommy Lewis following a highly successful 10-year run that included four state championships. The Skyhawks were responsible for the Eagles' only loss in 2012, a 37-0 thrashing at Hilton Head Christian in the season opener.

Players to watch: Eagles quarterback Brad Meccariello takes over the offense for the departed Caleb Lewis. He was used in more of a slasher role last season for Hilton Head Christian but will be counted on to lead the Eagles in 2012. Skyhawks tight end Cannon Smith headlines the Hammond offense, as the senior holds offers from Alabama and Clemson.

Keys to the game: Mitch was unhappy with his team's ball security in a recent scrimmage and hopes to clean that up before Friday's kickoff. His team will have to control possession in order to hang on into the fourth quarter, as a small roster and the Columbia humidity will no doubt take its toll on the Eagles' handful of two-way players.

Beaufort Academy at Twiggs (Ga.) Academy, 7 p.m.

Last meeting: First meeting

The skinny: Debut for head coach Brock Vaigneur. Former Abundant Life coach and Thomas Heyward assistant likes the Eagles' depth to start the season. The Trojans compete in the Independent Christian Schools of Georgia and Alabama, which also includes schools from Florida.

Players to watch: Beaufort Academy RB Reyn Robinson accounted for more than 1,200 yards from scrimmage in 2012. He averaged 7.04 yards per carry. Eagles' DL Brandon Massalon led the team with five sacks as a junior.

Keys to the game: Some of Beaufort Academy's issues last season could be attributed to turnovers. Vaigneur has asked his defense to create more takeaways. The Eagles could grab the momentum early if they are successful.

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