For 12 games, Bluffton cruised through its season as though there wasn't a malaise it couldn't overcome – slow starts, turnover woes, untimely penalties.
At some point, though, the odds have a tendency to catch up. And on Friday night, all three converged to knock the Bobcats out of the Class 3A playoffs.
Two early drives that came up empty set the tone for Bluffton's Lower State semifinal against Brookland-Cayce, which withstood the Bobcats' early threats and turned the momentum with an onside kick in the second half on the way to a 14-7 comeback victory.
"This one's going to hurt in the gut for a long time," Bluffton coach Ken Cribb said.
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Rasheed Taylor powered ahead for touchdown runs of 3 and 10 yards in that second half, propelling Brookland-Cayce (12-1) to next week's Lower State final, when the Bearcats will host No.1 Dillon for the right to play for the crown at Williams-Brice Stadium.
"It was just a matter of being patient," said Taylor, who gained 56 of his 64 yards rushing in the second half. "Keep doing what we were doing. Keep pushing."
The Bobcats' season ended with a 12-1 record, falling one game short of a fourth trip to the Lower State final in Cribb's seven seasons leading the program.
Not only did Bluffton produce its lowest point total of the season, but it was 18 points less than the previous low in a 25-22 win over Hilton Head Island. The Bobcats came into the game as the only team in South Carolina to top 600 points on the season, averaging 51.1 per outing.
Even in last week's second-round thriller against Lake City, the Bobcats put up 41 points.
"You can't miss those opportunities when you've got two teams that are equal," Cribb said.
Bluffton's only only points came on Cory McKie's 62-yard touchdown reception from Jermaine Patterson midway through the first quarter. The Bobcats also drove inside the B-C 20 twice in the opening half, but came away empty with a blocked field goal and interception at the goal line.
Patterson provided most of Bluffton's offense with 89 yards rushing and 112 passing. But he stayed down after a scramble to the Bobcats 29 with 1:40 left in the game, forcing backup Hunter Eldridge to try to pull things out.
Eldridge hit Ashby Cribb with a 15-yard pass on his first snap, leaving the Bobcats two yards short of extending the drive. Eldridge's fourth-down pass sailed out of bounds, allowing B-C to run out the clock."It's the biggest win in school history," said Bearcats quarterback Reed Charpia, who threw for 73 of his 118 yards passing in the second half. "Not just for me, but for the whole school."
The Bearcats still wound up being outgained by Bluffton, 260 yards to 210, but that factor made no difference as they celebrated near the 50-yard line. Bluffton also hurt themselves with 98 yards in penalties, while the Bearcats were flagged only once – a delay of game penalty in the third quarter.
The game also faced a 20-minute delay early in the second half as Bluffton cornerback Devon Chisolm was taken away in an ambulance after staying down on a sideline tackle of Taylor. There was no immediate report on his condition.
Brookland-Cayce turned the momentum with an onside kick to start the second half, recovering at the Bluffton 40. Though Charpia was intercepted in the end zone on that drive, the Bearcats had found their rhythm.
B-C used an 11-play, 78-yard march on its next possession to tie the score on Taylor's 3-yard touchdown run, and went 60 yards downfield on its next series before Taylor powered over from the 10.
"It was just missed opportunities," said Bluffton's Cribb. "That's high school football. It's going to be hard to swallow. We had a lot of opportunities that we didn't take advantage of."
The Bobcats used 12 plays on their opening possession to drive as far as the B-C 12-yard line, but an Octavious Pringle sack and Tyrese Sandgren's drop in the corner of the end zone forced a field-goal try. Quentin Hook broke through to get a hand on D.J. Chappelear's 33-yard attempt to keep things scoreless.
Bluffton needed only one play when it got the ball back, though, as McKie slipped behind the Bearcats' secondary to make an over-the-shoulder grab of Patterson's pass and tiptoe down the sideline into the end zone with 4:56 left in the quarter.
B-C's Jonathan Edwards came up short with a 31-yard field goal to start the second quarter. Bluffton went on the march again, but again stalled. A 21-yard Patterson keeper took the ball to the B-C 12, but a Cam Brown sack stopped the momentum and Patterson was picked off two snaps later by Raycron Williams at the 2.