High School Sports

Bluffton narrowly misses upset of Berkeley

The Bluffton Bobcats gather for a post-game huddle after their 25-26 loss to Berkeley High. "We fought till the end," said senior Anthony Gardner, "we're going to fight even harder next time."
The Bluffton Bobcats gather for a post-game huddle after their 25-26 loss to Berkeley High. "We fought till the end," said senior Anthony Gardner, "we're going to fight even harder next time." Sarah Welliver | The Island Packet

Stay aggressive. It was the first decision to pop into Ken Cribb's mind.

Quite frankly, it was one he didn't think he would have to make Friday night. Few did.

Yet when presented with the opportunity, he had no doubt. Aggression is what led his Bluffton High School football team to its 8-0 start.

So as he looked to the scoreboard -- seeing his Bobcats trailing football powerhouse Berkeley by one point with less than a minute to play -- now, he thought, wasn't the time to ease up.

"We're going to go for the win," he said.

With a Region 7-AAA championship on the line, Cribb stayed true to his word. He called for the Bobcats to go for the 2-point conversion -- and the win -- rather than attempt a game-tying extra point.

But Berkeley stacked up C.J. Johnson in the backfield to halt a fourth-quarter charge from upset-minded Bluffton and escape Bobcat Stadium with a 26-25 win. The Stags officially clinched the win when Mallie Sprouse's 53-yard field goal attempt fell short of the end zone as time expired.

Johnson scored on a 5-yard touchdown run with 37 seconds to play cap a six-play drive to pull the Bobcats within one.

"Nausea," Cribb said of his feeling after the game. "I feel like vomiting.

"We had so many opportunities to win that game. We just hadn't been there and done that before. Not being in that situation, I think we rushed it. We just rushed it."

Few thought they would be in such a situation Friday night.

Although the Bobcats entered with an 8-0 record, common belief was Berkeley, last year's Class 4-A Division II state champions, would prove too fast, too powerful and simply too experienced for the Bobcats.

The Stags fueled that belief on their opening drive of the second half. Quarterback Tevin Bradshaw scored on a 59-yard option play to give Berkeley a 19-7 lead. It was the Stags' lone big play that didn't come from running back Rahkeem White, who scored three touchdowns and rushed for 137 yards, including 114 in the opening half.

Faced with a two-score deficit in the second half, Bluffton rallied back. The defense held White to just 23 yards on nine carries in the final two quarters and kept Berkeley scoreless on three consecutive drives.

"We respect all our opponents, so we expected it to be tough," White said. "But I don't think we expected it to be this close."

Handed an opportunity to get back in the game, the Bobcats' offense responded. It put together back-to-back 12-play drives in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 19. Johnson scored on a 2-yard run with 11:56 to play, and C.J. Frazier found Eric Boyles on a swing pass for a nine-yard touchdown to draw even with 5:08 left.

The Bobcats, however, failed to add the extra point after any of their three fourth-quarter touchdowns. Mallie Sprouse had one kicked block, and his next attempt fell short of the crossbar -- which Cribb blamed on the Bobcats hiking the ball before Sprouse had even backed up to prepare for the kick.

The Stags took their third lead of the night when White punched in a 2-yard touchdown with 1:41 to play. Tyler Bartley led to that score -- picking off Frazier in the final two minutes.

Yet again, though, the Bobcats bounced back. Needing only one minute, they marched down the field in six plays to pull within one.

"I really don't know how we did that, because we never work on that in practice or nothing," said Boyles, who also rushed for 141 yards and the team's first touchdown. "We showed we can compete with them, and we showed heart."

Still, the Bobcats will likely have to settle for second place in Region 7-AAA after the loss. Berkeley can win the region's championship if it beats Cane Bay next week.

Bluffton will host rival Hilton Head High for the second time this season. The Bobcats began their eight-game winning streak with a 39-0 victory at Hilton Head High in August.

"This was a test to see where we're at as a team," Johnson said. "This was a humbling experience for us. I'm excited. It's definitely going to build for us. We're going to come together as a team."