Sometimes the task of ensuring a talented squad keeps its edge is no less a challenge than bringing a down program up again.
How does a coach keep his players working hard when wins come handily and the playoffs are still on the horizon?
“Keep it creative,” said Bluffton coach Ken Cribb, whose resourcefulness got a workout as the Bobcats stormed through the second perfect regular season in school history.
Though the Bobcats fell short of lofty goals, a run to the Class 3A Lower State semifinals was their deepest in four seasons and earned Cribb his third honor as the Island Packet/Beaufort Gazette’s Coach of the Year.
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“We had a very veteran team, a very experienced team,” said Cribb, still working out the letdown from the Bobcats’ loss to Brookland-Cayce. “We felt like it may go our way. We had a goal and we came up short. But we’ll learn from it.”
Finish line aside, the 2016 Bobcats will go down as one of the school’s most prolific squads.
Bluffton completed the only unbeaten regular season in Class 3A, holding the No.2 spot in the polls for the regular season’s final two months. The Bobcats also led all of South Carolina at 47.7 points per game, topping the 70-point mark three times.
The defense was no less distinguished, giving up just 11.4 points per game. The Bobcats set a school record with four shutouts, including three in a row during region play. Eight of 13 opponents were held under double digits, and just three scored more than 20.
“Our guys were hungry; they wanted it,” Cribb said.
And when the Bobcats’ focus might have been flagging, Cribb found ways to spice it up.
He unveiled the “Meat Wagon” backfield, with 338-pound Jhabias Johnson at quarterback and 265-pounder Tyler Lindo as the lone setback. Both scored touchdowns in a Bridge Bowl triumph over Hilton Head Island.
He also helped put D.J. Chappelear into the national record book by ordering field goals in the final three quarters of a September win over May River. Chappelear booted nine.
“You have to find ways to keep their attention,” Cribb said. “They know who they’re playing; it may not be very competitive. It’s hard to keep pushing yourself to the level where you need to improve.”
Cribb only wishes he could have come up with the magic to snap the Bobcats out of their doldrums against Brookland-Cayce. Bluffton’s seven points was less than one-third of its next-lowest total, with penalties killing at least three second-half drives.
“It’s going to haunt me like 2011, when we went to the state championship (and fell short),” Cribb said. “But we’ll be back. We’ll have a little chip on our shoulder.
“We’re graduating 27 seniors and I’m sure everybody’s going to be looking at it like, ‘Hey, Bluffton’s down.’ But we won’t be down. We’ll be back. These kids will come back hungry. We’ve got a tradition here.”
IP/BG Coaches of the Year
2015: B.J. Payne, Hilton Head Island
2014: Jahmaal Nelson, Ridgeland-Hardeeville
2013: Mark Clifford, Beaufort
2012: Jerry Hatcher, Whale Branch
2011: Ken Cribb, Bluffton
2010: Ken Cribb, Bluffton
2009: Tommy Lewis, Hilton Head Christian
2008: Tommy Lewis, Hilton Head Christian
2007: Mark Clifford, Beaufort
2006: Tommy Lewis, Hilton Head Christian
2005: Ron Peduzzi, Hilton Head Prep
2004: Mark Clifford, Beaufort
2003: Andy Smyth, Battery Creek
2002: Bill Buldini, Jasper County
2001: Fred Hamilton, Battery Creek
2000: Chuck Marrs, Beaufort
1999: Harry Sprouse, Thomas Heyward
1998: James Stokes, Battery Creek
1997: Sal Ancito, Hilton Head Prep
1996: Richard Brady, Beaufort
1995: James Stokes, Jasper County