Bluffton coach Ken Cribb takes a moderate stance on getting teams battle-tested.
When the Bobcats were competing in the state’s top classification in recent years, he said, the schedule served up a steady diet of tests. That can leave a lot of battle wounds.
“You take a lot more bumps and bruises along the way,” Cribb said. “This year we’ve had about four good tests, and we’ve stayed pretty healthy. So there’s a happy medium in there somewhere. We need to be tested, but we don’t need to be too tested.”
At this stage of the season, of course, they’re all tests.
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Having survived a few anxious moments a week ago, the unbeaten Bobcats seek to punch their ticket to the Class 3A Lower State title game Friday evening when Brookland-Cayce makes the trip down from the Midlands.
“We’ve been shooting for this,” said defensive tackle Jhabias Johnson. “Now there’s only four left in Lower State, so that’s like the Final Four. It’s going to be down to the wire and we’ve got to keep playing. We want to win.”
No more cruises by now, especially on the Lower State side.
The four remaining teams are all region champions, with a combined five losses between them. Bluffton (12-0) finished second in the final Class 3A regular-season rankings, with Brookland-Cayce (11-1) at No. 4. On the other side lurks top-ranked Dillon.
“Yeah, it’s getting big,” said receiver Tyrese Sandgren. “We have a big senior class, and none of us have been in this environment before. But we’ve stayed calm, know that we’re a family and just trusted in each other. That eases everything else.”
The Bobcats needed all the trust they could muster in last week’s 41-39 thriller over Lake City that had a little bit of everything. Bluffton trailed midway through the third quarter, took the lead, then saw the table flipped on a potential insurance score when the Panthers returned a fumble 100 yards for a touchdown.
Bluffton wound up thwarting the Panthers’ 2-point conversion attempt, did so again with four minutes left and knocked down a last-chance heave as time expired.
“We were nervous, we were anxious, but we went after it,” said defensive end Tyler Lindo. “We believed we could do it. We all believed.”
Cribb said: “We could have self-destructed but, man, they handled it great. They picked each other up, encouraged each other, didn’t panic. They just got right back in there.”
Nor did Brookland-Cayce have it easy last week, trailing Georgetown early in the third quarter before Rasheed Taylor’s 87-yard TD run tied the contest. Taylor scored twice more, punctuating a 177-yard rushing performance.
Cribb described the Bearcats as “a mirror image of us in a lot of ways,” with multiple offensive looks and a strong defense led by Shrine Bowl defensive lineman Octavious Pringle.
“You’d better be hitting on all cylinders,” Cribb said. “They can’t prepare for everything we do. They know that, and I think they’ve concentrated on the things they think we do the best. They’ll be prepared for most. It’s just how well we perform.”
Should Bluffton extend its season one more week, the Lower State championship would be contested at Bobcats Stadium.
“We’re playing in December. That’s a great thing,” Cribb said. “I’m hoping Santa Claus brings us a real good Christmas.”