It's a new season for the Bluffton and Beaufort high school football teams.
Both are coming off disappointing losses in the last two weeks, as the Bobcats dropped a heartbreaking 33-32 decision to rival Hilton Head Island High before a bye week. The Eagles, meanwhile, saw their unbeaten streak halted last Friday in a 48-7 setback to Goose Creek.
But Region 8-AAAA play has arrived, signaling the opportunity at a fresh start for both teams.
"They're eager to get back on that field and show the quality of team that they are," Bluffton coach Ken Cribb said. "They're eager. That's the best way I can say that. There's a lot of emotions involved."
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Beaufort High (5-1) watched film of its first loss to identify mistakes, assigning some blame to offensive penalties to open the second half. Focus turned to Bluffton, which defeated Beaufort High 34-10 to open region play a year ago.
The Eagles feel they are in a better place than this time last year.
"Our team definitely has a lot more confidence going into region, a lot more than we did last year," Beaufort High tight end Stephen Baggett said. "We know we can beat anybody if we set our minds to it."
The Bobcats (4-2) are preparing for another physical battle, much like they have experienced through the first six games. Bluffton has seen four games thus far decided by a total of 11 points and have gone 2-2 in that stretch. Getting on the positive end of those games from this point forward will determine the Bobcats' postseason positioning.
Coach Mark Clifford's Eagles pose yet another fourth-quarter problem, Cribb said.
"I see a hard-nosed group of kids that play hard," Cribb said. "I'll be honest, I've watched a lot of football and I've watched a lot of film. They may play harder than any team I've seen this year.
" ... They played Goose Creek tooth-and-nail through the first half. They're a solid football team. ... Coach Clifford's done a good job getting a lot out of them."
Cribb is hoping to get a similar effort from his young Bobcats, who are the healthiest they've been since preseason camp began. Defensive tackle K.J. Ford, who was named to the Shrine Bowl on Thursday, has been cleared to play for the first time since Week 1 against South Effingham. Only wide receiver Vinny Boni, who suffered an early-season collarbone injury, remains sidelined.
Ford's presence will boost a youthful team that has struggled at times this season.
"These kids are growing up and actually learning how to play the mental part of the game," Cribb said. "The physical part, we're in great shape. I couldn't be more pleased with where we are physically. ... But we're having to mature mentally off the field, whether it's blocking assignments, route running or reads."
Beaufort High could be without leading tackler T.J. Watts, who sprained his ankle during the loss to the Gators. Clifford said Watts was day-to-day this week.
Clifford said the Eagles practiced well but that the disappointment from Goose Creek would probably linger until kickoff Friday.
"The only way to get rid of it is win the next one," he said.
FRIDAY'S OTHER GAMES
James Island (1-5) at Hilton Head High (6-0), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Hilton Head High 29, James Island 25 (2012)
The skinny: The Seahawks are looking to keep their improbable unbeaten streak alive against James Island while running their Region 8-AAA record to 2-0 in the process. A win over the Trojans last year clinched a playoff spot for Hilton Head High, and it may do the same again this season as the top four region teams reach the postseason.
Players to watch: Trojans RB Buss Hamilton and QB Ty Stubbs could be the best players the Seahawks have seen at those positions thus far, coach B.J. Payne said. But Hilton Head High as a pair offensive standouts of their own in RB Khalil Lewis and QB Ben Oliff. Lewis sat out the second half of last week's win over Stall but has been cleared to return against James Island. Oliff will have to take all the snaps at quarterback this week after backup Aiden Hegarty was lost for the second time this year against Stall, this time to a deep bone bruise.
Keys to the game: Payne has told his team of the problems James Island presents, as the Trojans let a 13-point lead slip away at Bluffton earlier this season. Playing sound second-half football will be key for the Seahawks, who struggled over the last 24 minutes a week ago at Stall. Containing the Trojans ground attack, as well as TE Andrew Hutto will be pivotal in running Hilton Head High's record to 7-0.
Bethune-Bowman (1-5, 1-1 Region 5-A) at Whale Branch (1-5, 1-1), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Whale Branch 56, Bethune-Bowman 6 (2012)
The skinny: The Warriors have won their three previous meetings with Bethune-Bowman, by an average of 39.3 points. Both teams' region victory came at the expense of Denmark-Olar. The Mohawks are coming off a 28-24 victory over the Vikings. Whale Branch is coming off a bye after losing to Estill 40-0.
Players to watch: Whale Branch has made a change at quarterback, shuffling in sophomore Amagee Stephens and moving Devonta Glover to receiver. Warriors' DB Chavonne Simmons has four interceptions his past two games, with one returned for a score.
Keys to the game: The Warriors' offensive struggles continued during the loss to Estill, something Whale Branch addressed during its off week. Whale Branch will need to finish its scoring opportunities against a defense allowing 45 points per game through six games. Success will depend on the effectiveness of the quarterback switch.
Woodland (6-0, 3-0 Region 6-AA) at Battery Creek (2-4, 1-2), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Woodland 47, Battery Creek 6 (2012)
The skinny: Battery Creek has dropped two straight since opening region play with a win over Garrett Academy Tech. The Dolphins lost to two-time defending state champion Bishop England 17-0 on Oct. 4. Battery Creek will induct its inaugural athletics hall of fame class during halftime Friday.
Players to watch: Dolphins' QB Raekwon Smalls worked his way back from a knee injury to play last week at Bishop England and will earn his first start of 2013 on Friday. Battery Creek has leaned on running backs Josh Roberts and Yuneek Crittendon to carry the offensive load.
Keys to the game: Bishop England held Battery Creek to 133 yards of offense. Whether the Dolphins can produce with Smalls back in the lineup will be important. And Battery Creek's defense is up against a Wolverines team that has scored more than 50 points each of its first three region games.
Colleton Prep (3-4) at Hilton Head Christian (3-2), 7 p.m.
Last meeting: HHCA 20, Colleton Prep 6 (2012)
The skinny: The Eagles are beginning to play like the team coach Ryan Mitch believed he would have from the start, as HHCA has ripped off three straight victories. The latest one was the most convincing of the bunch, as the Eagles punished Thomas Sumter, 54-14. They will try to replicate that on Homecoming against the visiting War Hawks.
Players to watch: The Eagles are looking for another big game from Ben Warner, who was solid at right tackle a week ago while consistently causing havoc at his defensive tackle position as well. LB Nick Pirozzi also played one of his best game's last week and will look to lead the front seven against a run-heavy Colleton Prep team.
Keys to the game: Mitch has preached the same basics all season long: be more physical on both sides of the football and eliminate the penalties that have derailed promising drives. HHCA did both a week ago and will look to replicate that again en route to a fourth straight win. The Eagles will need an impressive night from their front seven against a War Hawks team that can pound defenses out of the wishbone before hitting them over the top on the play-action pass.
Thomas Heyward (5-2) at Hilton Head Prep (3-3), 4 p.m.
Last meeting: Thomas Heyward 60, Hilton Head Prep 14 (2012)
The skinny: The Dolphins are coming off what may be their best win of the season, a 39-21 road victory over Calhoun Academy. They will host a Thomas Heyward team that has reeled off five consecutive victories after an 0-2 start, having averaged over 40 points per game in that stretch.
Players to watch: Prep will try to ride its horse against the rival Rebels, so look for RB Teron Daley to carry the load. The senior has rushed for 842 yards and 11 touchdowns this season and is averaging over 140 yards per game, including a 9.79 average per rush. The Rebels will counter with a stable of backs, as six players have combined to rush for nearly 2,000 yards. Senior Seth Jones and junior Jared Rountree lead the bunch, as the two have totaled 1,212 yards and 12 scores.
Keys to the game: The Rebels clearly aren't the same team they were a year ago, when the state champion runners-up put up 60 on the outmanned Dolphins. But they will still require a near-perfect game from Prep, which is looking to claim its first win in the series since 2010. Both teams will try to pound the football, eat up clock and get out with a victory. The team that makes the least mistakes should get the win.
North Charleston (1-5, 1-2 Region 6-AA) at Ridgeland-Hardeeville (4-2, 3-0)
Last meeting: Ridgeland-Hardeeville 34, North Charleston 0 (2012)
The skinny: After starting 1-2, the Jaguars have reeled off three straight wins in region play. Ridgeland-Hardeeville has added the initials of Jasper County athletics director James Gardner to it's Jaguar logo at the center of its field, and the players will wear "JG" decals on their helmets. Gardner died two Sept. 26. North Charleston pulled the upset win over Garrett Tech last Friday.
Players to watch: The emergence of Jaguars senior QB D.J. Myers since the start of region play is remarkable. In the rough three-game opening stretch, Myers threw for 509 yards with five interceptions and no touchdowns. And he rushed for just 32 yards and a score on 27 carries.. But n three region wins, Myers is has a passing line of 24-46-0-354 with five TDs. And he has 143 yards and five touchdowns to add on 28 rushes. After missing three games, senior RB Marquis Griffin returned last week to rush for 173 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries.
Keys to the game: North Charleston plays sound defense, likes to gamble and will try the onside kick just about every times, keeping Ridgeland-Hardeeville on its toes. But as long as the Jaguars stay focused on this game and not next week's battle with seventh-ranked Woodland and they continue their recent trend of protecting the football, they should be in good shape.
St. John's Christian (3-3, 2-2 SCISAA 8-Man Region I) at Beaufort Academy (4-2, 3-1), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: St. John's 60, Beaufort Academy 0 (2012)
The skinny: The Cavaliers are not the same team that finished 11-2 and 8-0 in region play a year ago. But St. John's Christian has won three in a row as it heads to Beaufort Academy The Eagles are coming off a 64-20 win at Coastal Christian that included six Reyn Robinson touchdowns.
Players to watch: In addition to another huge game from Robinson in Week 6, Beaufort Academy got scores from freshman WR Christopher Boggs, Kevin Williams and Nicky Macuch.
Keys to the game: The Eagles struggles in this game last year started with a slow start, giving up 38 points during the first quarter. But they won't have to contend with RB Rashae Bey, who moved to Laurence Manning Academy for his senior season. Bey rushed for more than 200 yards and four scores against the Eagles last year.