The chance to play for a Region 7-AAA championship -- not even players on the Bluffton High School football team could imagine they would be in this position a year after missing the playoffs.
But in a season in which the Bobcats have knocked off just about every school record, they have the opportunity to claim one more tonight.
Bluffton will host traditional powerhouse Berkeley in a matchup of the lone undefeated teams in Region 7-AAA. With a win, the Bobcats would clinch the school's first region championship and guarantee themselves the first home playoff game in school history.
"Can't believe it," said Lewis Black, the Bobcats leading tackler. "Can't believe we're here."
Bluffton coach Ken Cribb said he could foresee a game of this magnitude at Bobcat Stadium -- but perhaps not so soon.
The Bobcats have mastered the first-year coach's Wing-T offense in a short time frame, scoring the fourth most points in Class 3-A in their 8-0 start. The defense is on a pace to allow the least points in school history.
But Berkeley (6-2 overall), coming off a Class 4-A Division II state championship last season, will likely present a challenge the Bobcats have not yet faced.
Led by running back Rahkeem White, a player Cribb says may be the best his team sees all season, the Stags make good use of the option game in their own version of the Wing-T. White is a big, powerful runner, yet he also has speed in the open field, Cribb said.
"We will have to wrap up," Black said. "He'll run right through arm tackles."
The Bobcats' offense relies on the combination of multiple players. C.J. Johnson, Eric Boyles and Zachary Scott will start in the backfield, with C.J. Frazier expected to get the nod under center for the second straight week after throwing four touchdowns in last week's win at Battery Creek.
"Balance will be the key this week," Cribb said. "Do what we do best and try to stay balanced, because I can promise you they're prepared for us. They're not going to come in here without being as prepared as possible."
The Bobcats may be without a couple of their top seniors tonight. Cornerback Tony Burns received stitches around his right eye as a result of an accident during P.E. class. He said he will miss tonight's game but hopes to return next week against Hilton Head High. And running back Desmond Jenkins has been hobbled with a lingering turf toe injury. His status is questionable.
Who: Berkeley (6-2, 3-0 Region 7-AAA) at Bluffton High School (8-0, 3-0)
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Bobcat Stadium
Offense: QB C.J. Frazier, WB Eric Boyles, WB C.J. Johnson, FB Zachary Scott, WR B.J. Kitty, WR Marquis Webber, C Chris Tillotson, RG Andrew Nickerl, RT Michael Sulka, LG Yerko Castedo, RT Austin Chittum.
Defense: DE Alfonza Powell, DE B.J. Kitty, DT Anthony Gardner, DT Ladarius Hughes, ILB Michael Grant, ILB Lewis Black, OLB Taylor McDonnell, OLB Jimmy Tillman, CB Muhammed Abdul-Malik, CB Anthony Smith, FS Travis Ramsey.
Special Teams: K/P Mallie Sprouse, KR Eric Boyles.
COLLETON COUNTY AT BEAUFORT HIGH
It would probably be easy for Beaufort High football players to mark this one down as a win and look ahead to next week.
After all, the Eagles face far stiffer tests their final two weeks of the season. But Beaufort High coach Mark Clifford always finds a reason to be wary during the week's preparation. And Colleton County, which travels to Beaufort High winless through eight games, is no exception.
"Everybody looks good on film to me," Clifford said.
The Cougars have endured their share of lopsided losses but did hang around with Fort Dorchester in a 10-point loss. Beaufort High's lone loss to this point in the season came to the Patriots.
"They've always kind of traditionally done some things to create some problems for an offense and cause turnovers or breaks," Clifford said. "They blitz a lot. They give you a lot of different kind of fronts. We've just got to make sure they don't finally put it together (tonight)."
Beaufort High will be without running back Josh McPherson, who aggravated a groin injury. Clifford said his running back should be ready by next week, when the Eagles play host to Region 8-AAAA power Summerville.
Clifford joked Thursday that he did not know who was next on the Eagles' schedule, but the closing stretch looms large for Beaufort High, which ends the season at undefeated Goose Creek.
Who: Colleton County (0-8, 0-2 Region 8-AAAA) at Beaufort High (7-1, 1-1)
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Eagle Stadium
Offense: QB Beau Brown, FB Alex Simmons, TB D'Vonta Cohen, TE Tyler Cieplowski, RT Cody Beals, RG Jabari Washington, C Rob Dennis, LG Benji Calderon, LT Seth Long, WR Dymonte Gwathney, WR Tre Austin
Defense: DE DeEndre Jefferson-Fields, DE Michael Bedwell, DT Dalvin Broussard, DT Detrell Gantt, ILB Kevin Gess, ILB Maliek Maldonado, OLB Malcolm Dantzler, OLB JaClay Mixon, CB Jalin Mack, CB Calvin Atkins, FS Davonte Green
Special teams: P Kyle Clark, K Kyle Clark, K Mitchell Stewart, KR/PR Luke Smith, KR/PR JaClay Mixon, KR D'Vonta Cohen
Thomas Heyward at Hilton Head Christian
The Eagles have already clinched a playoff spot, but they have their sights set on running the table in SCISAA Region 2-AA for the second consecutive season.
The Rebels, meanwhile, need to win at least one of their last two games to make the postseason.
"The bottom line is Thomas Heyward's back is against the wall if they want to make the playoffs," Eagles coach Tommy Lewis said, "so we expect to get their best shot and get it for four quarters."
Thomas Heyward's playoff hopes took a hit in last week's 67-28 loss to Hilton Head Prep, and while the Rebels' physical style seemingly would match up better against Hilton Head Christian, coach Nic Shuford knows his team won't have an easy time against the defending state champion Eagles.
"They are a very good football team," Shuford said. "They're big and they're fast and they're physical. I don't know how well we match up with them, but we're going to go out there and give it all we've got."
The Eagles are focused on stopping the Rebels' strong running game and keeping a healthy balance of run and pass on offense.
"We want to keep them off-balance with our balance," Lewis said. "If we can execute on offense both in the running and passing game, we give ourselves a chance. Execution is going to be a premium, because with their ball-control offense, we know we're only going to get so many chances and we need to take advantage of them."
The Rebels will be without two-way starter Bryan Lee Wade (concussion), who joins Ryan Day, John Padgett and Ward Burrus among starters out with injuries.
Hilton Head Christian linebacker Tyshawn Walls will sit out the first quarter for undisclosed disciplinary reasons, Lewis said, and defensive lineman Reed Shindell will sit out with a shoulder injury but is expected to be back next week against Hilton Head Prep.
Who: Thomas Heyward (5-3, 1-2 SCISAA Region 2-AA) at Hilton Head Christian (6-1, 3-0)
When: Today, 7 p.m.
Where: Eagles Stadium
Hilton Head Christian
Offense: QB Luke Sirgo, RB JaBrook Tucker, WR Alex Martin, WR Josh Mousseau, WR Eric Farr, TE Ryan Emery, LT Kyle Weaver, LG Cole Malphrus, C Alec Westmark, RG John Taylor Stones, RT Nick Borghi
Defense: DT Cole Malphrus, NG Robert Campos, DT Kyle Weaver, OLB Ryan Smith, ILB Zach Reynolds, ILB Clay Oliver, OLB JaBrook Tucker, CB Tyler Chisholm, CB J.D. Reichel, SS Devan Fitzhugh, FS Ryan Emery
Special teams: K Tyler Chisholm, P Luke Sirgo, KR JaBrook Tucker, KR Tyler Chisholm, PR Alex Martin
Offense: QB JD Tuten, RB Logan Mock, RB Hayden Daley, SE James Rumfelt, WR Dylan Crosby, TE Forrest Richardson, LT Devon Riley, LG Mercer Clark, C Coulter Bergmann, RG Nick Ashcraft, RT Joe Laycock
Defense: DE Forrest Richardson, DT Joe Laycock, NG Nick Ashcraft, DT Josh Mason, DE Mercer Clark, LB Devon Riley, LB Hayden Daley, CB Logan Mock, CB Anthony Arcuri, FS JD Tuten, SS Dylan Crosby
Special teams: K/P JD Tuten, KR/PR Logan Mock
Battery Creek at Hilton Head High
After dropping a key region game to Cane Bay last week, the Seahawks will look to bounce back against county rival Battery Creek tonight.
With a win, Hilton Head High can clinch a spot in the Class 3-A postseason, likely the fourth seed from Region 7-AAA.
But it will have to improve its performance to close out last week's loss. The Seahawks were outscored 20-0 in the second half and were unable to match the Cobras' physical play.
Hilton Head High has spent much of its time this week trying to become more physical up front in an attempt to improve the running game while also allowing Michael Julian more time to find open receivers.
"We're just going to strap it on, put our ears back and go get it," Seahawks coach Tim Singleton said. "We're going to flip the script and do some things differently and just go get it."
Battery Creek coach Carlos Cave said he thinks the Dolphins will be prepared for what the Seahawks do, at least the things they have seen in the past. Cave's concern, expressed after Battery Creek's loss to Bluffton last week, is in allowing the Seahawks too many big plays.
"Tim's going to do what he does," Cave said. "You know what to expect. If we go and give up those big plays in chunks, it will make for another long night."
Who: Battery Creek (0-8, 0-3 Region 7-AAA) at Hilton Head High (3-5, 1-2)
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Hilton Head Island Community Stadium
Hilton Head High
Offense: QB Michael Julian, RB Matt Bex, FB Mike Fotia, WR Robbie Iulo, WR Adam Orischak, TE/WR Desmond Bush, LT Hunter Anderson, LG Robert Moody, C Jake Morris, RG Cole Catazanzarite, RT Justin Keller.
Defense: DE Corey Parrott, DE Taylor Place, DT Melvin Fields, DT Raheem Williams, OLB Luke Barsness, OLB Jacob Lewis, MLB Tim Rivers, CB Shakane Simmons, CB Tony Clark, SS Lamond Wililams, FS Kevin Champen.
Special Teams: K Weston Mott, P Michael Julian, KR Matt Bex.
Offense: QB Kevin Sanders, RB Javon Livingston, RB Keenan Wright, WR Jamario Williams, WR Leroy Jennette, WR Ryan Halley, LT Spencer Butler, LG Frank Price, C David Ratliff, RG Ben Lee, RT Bear Childers
Defense: DL O.J. Richardson, DL Daquan Jamison, DL Justin Frazier, LB Javon Livingston, LB Jaylan Briggs, LB Dakody Mersino, LB Carlton Linnen, CB Brent Johnson, CB Kevin Sanders, S Keenan Wright, S Jamario Williams
Special teams: K Matthew Khardoli, K Okasea Blagrov, P Donald Furman, R Kevin Sanders, R Javon Livingston
Hilton Head Prep at First Baptist
The Dolphins have two goals tonight -- to leave Charleston with win, and to do so with everyone as healthy as possible.
The first part shouldn't be a problem against the winless Hurricanes, but the injury bug has bitten Prep hard all season, so the Dolphins are hopeful they'll be relatively healthy for next week's cross-island showdown against Hilton Head Christian.
Prep again will be without receiver/defensive end Patrick Andrews and running back/safety L.J. Orage, but coach Ron Peduzzi said both have a chance to return for the playoffs, if not the season finale against the Eagles.
The Dolphins have scored 39 points or more in each of their six victories this season and have scored 67 or more three times.
Who: Hilton Head Prep (6-2, 2-1 SCISAA Region 2-AA) at First Baptist (0-9, 0-3)
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Billy Smith Athletic Complex, 1045 Fort Johnson Road, Charleston
Hilton Head Prep
Offense: QB Matt Layman, RB Scott D'Amico, WR Dimitri Lowry, WR Alex Orford, WR Danny Maggard, TE Bo Strimpfel, LT Marc Halseth, LG Tommie Peeples, C Devin White, RG Collins Richardson, RT Patrick Briody
Defense: DE Danny Maggard, DE Marc Halseth, DT Casey Baker, DT Dylan Powell, OLB Bo Strimpfel, OLB Scott D'Amico, MLB Jeremy Haidon, CB Zenon Parker, CB Alex Orford, SS Teron Daley, FS Dimitri Lowry
Special teams: K Colin White, P Matt Layman, KR/PR Dimitri Lowry, KR/PR Scott D'Amico
Branchville at Hardeeville
The Hurricanes picked up one of their biggest wins in program history with last week's 20-6 victory on the road against Allendale-Fairfax. At 4-1 in Region 5-A, Hardeeville is looking to keep its momentum rolling with tonight's matchup against Branchville.
Hardeeville dominated up front in last week's win. Michael Kinlaw had five sacks on defense, and rushed for 131 yards and two touchdowns to also lead the offense.
The Hurricanes will look for another dominating physical performance tonight.
"As we approach the end of the regular season and hopefully the postseason, our guys have to understand that you always have to play better than you did the week before," Hardeeville coach Blake Raley said. "It's senior night, so obviously our seniors would like nothing more than to go out with a win in the last regular season home game."
With a win, the Hurricanes will keep their hopes alive of setting up a showdown next week at Ridgeland -- a game that could decide second place in Region 5-A if both teams win tonight.
Who: Branchville (1-7, 0-5 Region 5-A) at Hardeeville (4-4, 4-1 Region 5-A)
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Hurricane Stadium
Offense: QB Donald Scott, RB Michael Kinlaw, RB Jarrell Knighton, WR Brandon Blackshear, TE Dominique Riley, WR Charlie Morrison-Ford, OL Jamal Kinlaw, OL Christopher Campbell, OL Landon Johnson, OL Xavier Gist, OL Demetrius Garvin.
Defense: DL Landon Johnson, DL Demetrius Garvin , DL Gabriel Washington, DL Philip Harris, LB Amar Wilkins, LB Dominique Riley, LB Brandon Blackshear, LB Terrell Knighton, DB Donald Scott, DB Charlie Morrison-Ford, DB Aaron Grant.
Special teams: P Charlie Morrison-Ford, K Philip Harris.
Ridgeland at Estill
Ridgeland can continue its Region 5-A run tonight on the road at Estill.
The Jaguars have won four consecutive region contests since opening region play with a loss to Bamberg-Ehrhardt, which remains undefeated. Ridgeland is rolling up 321 yards per game on the ground and averaging 37 points per game. Coach Richard Kirkland's team is coming off a 56-0 trouncing of Bethune-Bowman last week.
Estill has won back-to-back region games, having also soundly beaten Bethune-Bowman and then beating Whale Branch 52-24 a week ago.
The Gators' two region losses, to Hardeeville and Bamberg, came by a combined seven points.
Who: Ridgeland (5-3, 4-1 Region 5-A) at Estill (4-4, 3-2)
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Estill High School, Estill
Offense: QB Xavier Capers, RB Tyboshie Mikell, RB Jerry Scott, RB Torray Amlett, WR Hamilton Harris, WR Tyron Mikell, OT Jacque Polite, OT Aaron Watson, OG Larry Jackson, OG Wesley Scott, C Damon Jackson
Defense: DT Jaquel Howard, DT Larry Jackson, DE Jacquel Polite, DE Wesley Scott, LB Derrick Solomon, LB Damon Gadson, OLB Jerry Scott, OLB Shaquille Grant, CB Immanual White, CB Xavier Capers, FS Tyron Mikell
Special teams: K Xavier Capers, P Tyron Mikell, R Torray Amlett, R Shaquille Grant
Whale Branch at Bethune-Bowman
Whale Branch should enjoy another region victory tonight before traveling to face the region leaders to end the regular season.
Bethune-Bowman is 1-7 and has dropped all five of its Region 5-A contests to this point. Whale Branch is coming off a 52-24 loss to Estill and has dropped four of its past five games, all region contests.
The Mohawks have lost their five region games by an average of 34 points.
After Bethune-Bowman, Whale Branch travels to Bamberg-Ehrhardt to end its inaugural regular season. The Red Raiders are currently undefeated and atop the region.
Who: Whale Branch (4-4, 1-4 Region 5-A) at Bethune-Bowman (1-7, 0-5)
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Bethune-Bowman High School; 4857 Charleston Highway, Rowesville
Offense: QB Stedmon James, RB Joshua Fields, RB Robert Evans, RB Andrew Byam, WR Dee Delaney, WR Frank Washington, LT Howard Allen, LG Donald Middleton, C Max Minter-Ford, RG Matthew McCray, RT Jay Delaney
Defense: LB Trey Nelson, LB Davon Mack, LB Stedmon James, LB Andrew Byam, DE Tyrik Spicer, DE Jay Delaney, DT Mytae Jackson, DT Pop McKee, FS Frank Washington, CB Charles Giles, CB Dee Delaney
Special teams: K Charles Jiles, P Stedmon James, LS Trey Nelson, R Joshua Fields, R John Little
Beaufort Academy at Clarendon Hall
Eight-man football is known for its passing but Clarendon Hall does the opposite. The Saints run just five plays, but execute all five extremely well, using the size and athleticism of backs Waymon Hall, Hunter Hodges and Justice Beach to overwhelm opponents.
"They are a big, strong, physical team," Beaufort Academy coach Wheatley Alford said. "They don't have to pass. They line up, tell you they're going to run and come right at you."
Beaufort Academy is flying high, coming off a 66-6 victory over Ridge Christian. Quarterback Gibson Achurch led the way with 189 yards and three touchdowns on 9 of 9 passing. He also scored a rushing touchdown as the Eagles posted their second win of the season.
Standout offensive lineman and linebacker Bennett Fultz returns to the lineup this week after missing Week 8 with strep throat. Since he hasn't been 100 percent in practice this week, Alford expects Brandon Massalon to see significant playing time in both positions.
Who: Beaufort Academy (2-6, 1-3 SCISAA 8-man Region 2) at Clarendon Hall (6-2, 4-0)
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Clarendon Hall Academy; 1140 South Duke Street, Summerton
Offense: OL Bennett Fultz, OL Adam Chahin, OL Jordan Littleford, WR Leif Koppernaes, WR Jack Griffith, WR Matthew Bass, WR Ethan Kindwall, QB Gibson Achurch
Defense: DL Leif Koppernaes, DL Adam Chahin, DL Ethan Kindwall, LB Bennett Fultz, LB Gibson Achurch, LB Matthew Bass, CB Billy Dailey, CB Jack Griffith
Special teams: P/K Gibson Achurch, PR/KR Nathan Akers