Cover 2: Season underway for Bluffton, Hilton Head Island

ccox@islandpacket.comAugust 30, 2013 

The high school football season is officially in full swing.

Only a handful of teams from Beaufort County suited up last Friday during Week Zero, with Bluffton's 44-0 victory over Whale Branch Early College High School providing the highlight. Everyone else will join the fray this time around, which includes Hilton Head Island High opening on the road against the Class 1-A Warriors.

The Seahawks are looking for their first season-opening victory since 1999, a 26-21 victory at Goose Creek. They have lost 13 straight since then, including a 29-28 upset loss to Whale Branch a year ago in B.J. Payne's Hilton Head High coaching debut.

The Bobcats, meanwhile, hit the road for a second consecutive week. Coach Ken Cribb's team will take on South Effingham in Guyton, Ga., in the hopes of beating the Mustangs for a second straight year. Bluffton won, 35-8, in 2012.

Hilton Head High at Whale Branch (0-1), 7:30 p.m.

B.J. Payne had just broken into the professional wrestling industry the last time the Seahawks won their season opener. That's a long time, for those of you unfamiliar with the Hilton Head High coach's background.

The Seahawks believe they have the pieces in place to change that in 2013. Aiden Hegarty will make his first career start at quarterback in place of Michael Julian, now at Toledo, but the offense is expected to run through senior tailback Khalil Lewis.

In a conversation earlier this week, Payne noted how essential it was for Hilton Head High to face 2nd-and-6 rather than 2nd-and-13. The Seahawks don't look to be a team built on throwing the football as much as they did under Julian, so moving the chains will be essential to the team's success, starting with Whale Branch.

Hilton Head High has three returning starters along the offensive line this year and also brings back senior defensive tackle Poona Ford, a Louisville commit. That strength in the trenches will need to be on display against the Warriors, who feature several players playing both ways. Wearing down what little depth they have will be pivotal for the Seahawks.

Prediction: I was in fifth grade school when the Seahawks last started 1-0. I expect that dubious record to finally be broken this year, however, with Hilton Head High hanging on for a 24-20 victory over the Warriors. Look for the Hilton Head High offense to try and control the ball, move the chains and wear down the Whale Branch starters by the time the fourth quarter arrives.

Bluffton (1-0) at South Effingham, 7:30 p.m.

If ever there was a silving lining in last week's season-opening win at Whale Branch, coach Ken Cribb found it.

The Bobcats left with a 44-0 victory in hand, but did so at the heavy cost of two of their star players in junior defensive end and South Carolina commit Shameik Blackshear (shoulder) and senior super back B.J. Hill (ankle). Both are out for at least this week and possibly next week, too. And yet...

"We're excited," Cribb said. "We found out last Friday that we have more depth than we were aware of. We hoped to get to that point, but real excited about our young kids that stepped in."

That depth will need to be on display against a South Effingham team that advanced to the Georgia Class 4-A quarterfinals in 2012, a surprising run after a slow start to the season. That included a 35-8 defeat at the hands of Bluffton.

But most of the players that made up that team are gone with a relative unknown crop behind them waiting in the wings. Cribb and Co. have watched as much film as they could get their hands on but won't truly know what the Mustangs have until the two teams line up Friday night.

South Effingham features an experienced offensive line that will pave the way for new running backs Patrick Brown and Corey Horne. That means defensive tackle K.J. Ford will have to be at its best to slow down the Mustangs attack, especially since he will be without the aid of Blackshear.

Prediction: Don't look for a score similiar to the 35-8 whipping the Bobcats administered in 2012. That said, Bluffton is still the better football team and will show it Friday night. Cribb will improve to 18-0 as the Bobcats coach in August and September and Bluffton finishes its early two-game road trip with a 30-14 victory.

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