Bluffton fell 35-25 on the road to top-seeded Goose Creek on Friday in the second round of the Class 4-A Division II playoffs.
The Bobcats finish their first season in 4-A with an impressive record of 11-2, while Goose Creek improves to 13-0.
The drama continues.
After preparing most of the week to face the Conway Tigers, the Bobcats didn’t find out they’d be traveling to Goose Creek for their game until about 12:30 p.m. Friday.
Defending state-champion Goose Creek High School, disqualified from the playoffs Tuesday for using an ineligible player, made its case in front of a judge Friday morning that it deserved to be reinstated to the state football playoffs, and he agreed, for now.
Goose Creek had previously lost its appeal before the High School League on Wednesday night in Columbia.
S.C. 9th District Circuit Court Judge Roger Young ruled Goose Creek could play Friday night but the S.C. High School League would convene in an open hearing before 5 p.m. Monday and revisit the Gators' fate.
They could still be ruled ineligible.
If that happens, Bluffton would play next week.
“It’s been about a rough a week as it can get,” said Bobcats coach Ken Cribb, whose wasn’t sure which team his should prepare for most of the week. “We’re going to go home, go to IHOP, cry some blues and eat until 3 a.m. We just have to wait and see.”
Despite the drama and uncertainty about who they would face, the Bobcats performed admirably. They moved the ball at will through the air against the Gators. But they couldn’t hold on to it.
The Bobcats fumbled the opening kickoff, and that was a sign as they went on to commit six turnovers — four fumbles and two interceptions.
“We just relaxed for a second,” senior quarterback C.J. Frazier said. “But they’re so good, if you just relax for a second, they prey on that. They’re good at taking it away.”
Cribb said some of his players were too focused on the getting the extra yard instead of holding onto the ball.
“I feel a lot of pride, our kids played hard. They played their guts out,” Cribb said. “But the turnovers will get you. Their team did a good job. That’s just a part of it. You don’t want it to be a part of it, but it is.”
The Bobcats rushed for just 67 yards but only ran it 13 times. Frazier was 22 of 34 through the air for 296 yards with three touchdowns and two picks. Marquis Webber had a big night, catching eight passes for 168 yards and two scores, while Demetrius Smalls had eight catches for 98 yards and a score. Gerald oberson had a 45-yard touchdown run.
“I’ll say it again, and it doesn’t sound like a compliment, but it is, this team overachieved,” Cribb said. “They play as good a football as anyone. And they’re probably more fun to watch.”
Goose Creek was one-dimensional, completing just two passes on the night. But Rico Blanding and the ground game wore the Bobcats down. Blanding had 117 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries. His 42-yard scoring romp on a fourth-and-1 play late in the second half likely spelled the end for the Bobcats.
Georgia commitment Tramel Terry scored a 2-yard touchdown for the Gators, and Omar McRae took one of Frazier’s passes to the house. Now the Bobcats play the waiting game, again.
“We’ll see what happens Monday. We won’t practice, we’ll just wait,” Cribb said. “I’m so proud of our coaches and our players for the way they’ve handled this with dignity.”
Earlier Friday, Bluffton athletics director Dave Adams voiced his frustration. “I’ve never heard of this before,” Adams said. “I’ve heard of them overturning it, but never ‘just play and we’ll see on Monday.’ ”
If Goose Creek is again declared ineligible on Monday — the hearing is at 2 p.m. in Columbia — the Bobcats would play next Friday at Northwestern.
“I guess we’ll have to go Monday and practice — win, lose or draw — as if we’ll be playing next Friday night,” Adams said.
Young’s decision on Friday effectively knocked Conway (5-7) out of the playoffs. When Young rendered his decision, the Tigers had not yet left the school for Bluffton, a trip that would have cost the school approximately $2,450 in buses and meals.
“I have to remind myself that we didn’t do anything,” Conway coach Chuck Jordan said. “We were one of the pawns. We were told to play, so we passed out equipment and practiced and we were going to go down there and play. We have not been in control during this entire thing.
Are we glad the rabbit hole didn’t go on and on? Yeah. I would not have wanted to practice another week and have the same thing happen.”
The High School League constitution states that only one team — Goose Creek or Bluffton — will be allowed to move on. It prevents the playoffs from being extended and compromising financial agreements the league has with state title venues.
“I don’t agree with the way any of this was handled,” Cribb said. “I’m not going to take sides though. But I believe, if you’re part of an organization, you play by its rules. And that’s it. If it’s something I don’t like and I can appeal, I appeal. But when it’s done, it’s done.”
Bluffton 0 13 6 6 -- 25
Goose Creek 7 21 0 7 -- 35
GC--Rico Blanding 2 run (Masamitsu Ishibaski kick), 4:05
GC-- Blanding 2 run (Ishibaski kick), 10:55
GC--Omar McRae 22 interception return (Ishibaski kick), 9:44
BLF--Demetrius Smalls 15 pass from C.J. Frazier, (Mallie Sprouse kick), 7:08
GC-- Blanding 42 run (Ishibaski kick), 3:54
BLF--Marquis Webber 15 pass from Frazier (kick blocked), 1:34
BLF-- Gerald Roberson 45 run (pass failed), 4:34
GC-- Tramel Terry 2 run (Ishibaski kick), 6:24
BLF--Webber 4 pass from Frazier (pass failed), 3:24