Thirty groups from across the region -- including eight local competitors -- gathered at the school at 9 a.m., armed with the robots they'd spent months building from kits of flat metal sheets, cogs, sprockets and wheels.
By 4:30 p.m., all that separated the remaining teams from the championship of the Palmetto State Lowcountry VEX Robotics Competition was a single elimination tournament.
Inside a plastic ring, four remote-controlled robots maneuvered around a mass of red and blue balls, trying to score goals with some and knock others off plastic bars.
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There was plenty of shouted encouragement.
"Blue, play a little more defense!"
"Let 'em get out of your way! Right side, right side, right side!"
After the semifinals, three teams won to advance to the state competition in Columbia next month.
Some of the stocky contraptions Saturday used timing belts to grab prey, while others were outfitted with metal scoops or claws -- sometimes with varying success.
For many of the students, it was a process of trial and error.
Not only was Saturday's event the first VEX competition hosted by Bluffton High, but it also was the first in which many competitors built VEX robots.
Members of one team, DIVA Bots of Orangeburg's High School for Health Professions, seemed happy their machine was even in one piece. After a clunky first matchup, the all-female DIVAs used its 15-minute breaks to feverishly break down and rebuild its robot.
"We had no clue it was going to be like this," 15-year-old Achrisaleyah Fields said with a smile.
Those are the kind of challenges that feed students' enthusiasm for robotics, said Justin Robinson, the Bluffton engineering and architecture instructor who organized Saturday's event.
"They see other people do well and it makes them want to do better," he said.
Eventually, Robinson hopes to hold a competition that includes all Beaufort County schools, expanding robotics beyond this year's local teams of Bluffton High School, Whale Branch Early College High School, and H.E. McCracken Middle, Lady's Island Middle and Whale Branch Middle schools.
On Saturday, however, the four Bluffton teams had some other Bobcats to contend with -- the Bobcats of the Center for Advanced Technical Studies in Chapin.
Chapin's model had an edge, 16-year-old Ashley Amick said. His team designed a robot with two long, flexible arms that could grab inflatable balls and lift them two feet in the air.
Another member, though, disagreed about what the team's secret weapon was.
That "weapon" held together not only their robot but their crumbling remote control, 16-year-old Damian Mayers said.
"The rubber band is the answer to all."
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.