As Bluffton High School coach Ken Cribb made his way around town this week, he was stopped by various people -- most of whom he had never met -- and congratulated.
When he bought his morning newspaper, the clerk at the counter wished him good luck as the Bobcats enter territory they have never reached.
The confidence in Bluffton football, Cribb is quickly learning, has stretched beyond his locker room.
"It is exciting to see in this community that there's a buzz everywhere I go," Cribb said. "There's a lot of talk about Bluffton football."
The Bobcats hope to keep the community talking for a few more weeks.
Bluffton will open the Class 3-A playoffs tonight when it hosts Lakewood, fourth-place finisher of Region 6-AAA, at 7:30 at Bobcat Stadium. It will mark the Bobcats' first home playoff game in school history after winning the Region 7-AAA championship and finishing 9-1 during the regular season. They can earn another with a victory tonight.
Easier said than done.
The Gators finished just 4-6, but they possess the best player the Bobcats have seen all season, Cribb said. Quarterback Dalvin Bracey runs the Gators offense, mostly using his legs and power to pick up chunks of yardage.
"He's one of the best I've seen in many years," said Cribb, who compared him to Georgia Tech quarterback Josh Nesbitt. "He breaks four, five, six tackles every play. It's crazy to watch him on film."
Bracey's talent could turn tonight's game into a shootout, though the Bobcats are allowing just 13.4 points per game, which puts them on pace to set a school record.
The Bobcats plan to hold up their end of the bargain with a Wing-T offense that is scoring 37.5 points per game and has topped 25 points in all 10 games. That's despite a slew of injuries Bluffton has seen this year --primarily in its backfield. Running backs Zachary Scott, C.J. Johnson and Desmond Jenkins all missed time in last week's Bridge Bowl win. Scott and Johnson are expected to start tonight, and Jenkins -- who has missed a month with a lingering toe injury -- has a chance to return to the lineup as well, Cribb said.
Regardless of who is in the backfield, the Bobcats will need to move the ball to keep Bracey off the field.
"I think we just keep doing what we're doing, which is see what they're going to allow and then take advantage," Cribb said. "There's no reason to change anything up just because it's the playoffs. ... Our kids have confidence in what we do. It's growing week to week."
Who: Lakewood (4-6, 1-4 Region 6-AAA) at Bluffton High School (9-1, 4-1 Region 7-AAA)
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 C.J. Stoner, WR Marquis Webber, C Chris Tillotson, RG Andrew Nickerl, RT Michael Sulka, LG Yerko Castedo, LT Austin Chittum.
Defense: DE Alfonza Powell, DE B.J. Kitty, DT Anthony Gardner, DT Josh Black, 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.
Hilton Head High at Hartsville
The postseason hasn't been too kind to Hilton Head High in recent years.
The Seahawks have been bounced in the first round of the Class 3-A playoffs in each of the past three seasons -- all at home -- and they've lost four straight playoff games dating back to 2006.
But each of those postseasons came with something that tonight's game won't have -- high expectations.
Hilton Head High will travel in the first round of the playoffs for the first time under Tim Singleton, and it won't be an easy trip. Hartsville ran the table in Region 7-AAA and finished 7-3 overall to earn one of the Lower State's four No. 1 seeds.
"The good thing is nobody expects anything for Hilton Head (High) this year. The bad thing about it is we haven't had great success (in the playoffs) the past few years because we've had a lot of letdowns," Singleton said. "This team here, our attitude is going to be care-free, but we're going to execute and see where the ball bounces."
The Seahawks will likely need a few of those bounces to go their way to pull off an upset tonight.
Hartsville runs a similar Wing-T offense to Bluffton, a team that handed the Seahawks a 37-0 loss last week. After the game, Singleton said his team needed to be more physical up front. He reiterated that point in practice this week.
"We have to change our whole mindset," Singleton said. "We're capable of being physical. We just need to push those buttons. It's a work in progress."
Who: Hilton Head High (4-6, 2-3 Region 7-AAA) at Hartsville (7-3, 5-0 Region 7-AAA)
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Hartsville High School, 701 Lewellen Ave, Hartsville
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 Brandon Foss, RT Justin Keller.
Defense: DE Raheem Williams, DE Taylor Place, DT Melvin Fields, DT Donnell Mitchell, OLB Luke Barsness, OLB Jacob Lewis, MLB Tim Rivers, CB Shakane Simmons, CB Tony Clark, SS Lamond Wililams, FS Desmond Bush.
Special Teams: K Weston Mott, P Michael Julian, KR Matt Bex.