The Bluffton High School football team beat Lake City Friday night in Bluffton, 41-39, to advance to the final eight of the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
It took every ounce of physical and mental toughness the Bobcats had.
“They wouldn’t be denied. They fought. They pulled together as a team,” head coach Ken Cribb said. “They played incredible together.”
The Bobcats (12-0), in their first postseason appearance since reaching the 2012 Class 4A-II Lower State final, advanced to host fourth-ranked Brookland-Cayce next Friday night.
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The game had six lead changes, with one coming on a heave from Chris Burnette to Jalen Barr as time expired in the second quarter, to give the Panthers a 27-20 lead at the break.
Bluffton answered with 7:33 to play in the third quarter when Jermaine Patterson hooked up with Emauni Thompson for a 10-yard score to tie the game at 27 after the PAT.
A few minutes later, after a leaping 25-yard catch by Ashby Cribb, Thompson ran for a 7-yard touchdown to put the Bobcats back on top, 34-27.
That would remain the score until midway through the fourth period when Lake City pulled off a play that seemed like it might turn the tide in their favor.
Bluffton had the ball at the Panthers 2 and it seemed almost a formality that they’d score to go up two touchdowns. Instead, a fumble in the end zone was scooped up by Barr, who sprinted 100 yards the other way for what seemed like would be the tying score. But, down 34-33, Lake City head coach Terrell Fleming elected to go for two. The Bobcats intercepted Burnette’s pass and the boisterous crowd was able to exhale, slightly.
Bluffton, sporting its kelly green jerseys, put the pressure right back on the Panthers on their next possession. With 5:55 left to play, on second-and-1 from the Lake City 43, Patterson found Cory McKie over the middle. McKie made a nice run after the catch before shaking a tackler near the goal line and diving into the end zone to make it 41-33.
Back came the explosive Panthers. Burnette threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Keenan Graham with 4:05 remaining to make it 41-39. This time, there was no decision to be made: go for two and the tie. On the conversion try, Burnette fumbled the snap, but after regaining control, he was swallowed up by Charles Barron. Still, the Bobcats led.
Lake City had one last chance. With 2.1 seconds left from the Bluffton 48, Burnette’s desperation pass was batted down by the Bobcats short of the end zone and Cribb’s team found itself one win from the state semifinals.
“That was the best damn effort I’ve seen all year,” said defensive coordinator John Haupt. “They played their butts off, but you know what? We played ours off a little bit more.”
Bluffton 41, Lake City 39
Chapin 52, Beaufort 35
Carvers Bay 22, Whale Branch 7