High School Sports

Lakewood makes Bluffton sweat out first-round win, 24-21

Bluffton's Marquis Webber (10) looks for running room during Friday night's Class 3-A playoff game with Lakewood. Lakewood’s Derrick Hopkins (87) tries to find a way around a block by Bluffton's C.J. Johnson (25).
Bluffton's Marquis Webber (10) looks for running room during Friday night's Class 3-A playoff game with Lakewood. Lakewood’s Derrick Hopkins (87) tries to find a way around a block by Bluffton's C.J. Johnson (25). Jay Karr | The Island Packet

The question puzzled a couple of Bluffton High School football players, but it didn't take their coach long to formulate his response.

What, exactly, was the feeling the Bobcats were experiencing after grinding out the first playoff victory in the school's seven-year history?

"Phew," Bobcats coach Ken Cribb said, wiping imaginary sweat from his brow on a brisk November night. "I'm glad to get out of here with a win."

It didn't come without a struggle, as the Bobcats had to muster a defensive stand in the final four minutes Friday night to hold on for a 24-21 win over visiting Lakewood in the first round of the Class 3-A playoffs.

Although the Bobcats wrote another chapter in a history book they have filled with firsts this season -- first win against rival Hilton Head High, first region title, first home playoff game -- they had to pen this one in a new manner.

Bluffton's Wing-T offense never hit full speed, slowed by penalties and held to 219 total yards and a season-low 24 points. The defense was up to the task of stopping quarterback Dalvin Bracey, who was held to 41 yards on 15 carries, but the Gators gashed the Bobcats up the middle, rushing for 259 yards on 58 attempts. Fullback Roderick Anderson led the way with 160 yards and three touchdowns.

When it came time to make a couple of crucial stops, though, Bluffton's defense came through.

The Bobcats stopped Bracey's scramble on fourth and goal from the 9 on the last play of the half to preserve a 14-7 halftime lead, and they came up with an even bigger stand in the fourth quarter.

After quarterback C.J. Frazier and wingback Eric Boyles botched a handoff, the Gators (4-7) took over on their own 26 with less than four minutes left. Their last two drives had ended in touchdowns to scramble back from a 21-7 deficit.

Three stuffed runs later, a trick play ended with a wobbling pass floating out of bounds on the Bluffton sideline, and the Bobcats were left to run out the clock.

"They did a real good job defensively on that last drive," Lakewood coach Chris Collins said. "We thought we had momentum and we had a couple good things going, and they stepped up and made a couple of adjustments and stuffed us."

Unable to muster much on the ground, Bluffton scored both of its first-half touchdowns through the air, as Marquis Webber made a one-handed grab on a pass from Frazier for a 32-yard touchdown to open the scoring and the duo hooked up for a 17-yard score in the second quarter to make it 14-7.

Bluffton (10-1) recovered a fumble on the first offensive play of the second half and scored on C.J. Johnson's 9-yard run two plays later. When the Bobcats got the ball back on their own 25 after Boyles' 28-yard punt return, it looked like they were ready to cruise into the second round.

The Gators put together two long drives, though, with Bluffton's Mallie Sprouse hitting a 22-yard field goal in between.

The Bobcats recovered an onside kick and drove inside the Lakewood 25, but the Gators forced their first turnover of the night, and suddenly it was Lakewood -- which went 0-10 last season -- that looked like it might make history.

But the Bobcats' defense had one stand left.

"It's got to be the best feeling flowing through everybody right now," said Bluffton senior Travis Ramsey, who had an interception in the second quarter. "The defense stepped up big. I'll tell you that."

When the relief subsides, the Bobcats will be able to enjoy another historic Friday night in a season full of them, but the elation won't last long -- 10-1 A.C. Flora is coming to town for a second-round game next week, and Cribb thinks his suddenly playoff-tested team will be ready.

"I think the pressure is off just a little bit," Cribb said. "They've won a playoff game now, and everything else from here on out is just icing on the cake. We want to make it last till December, but all we can do is go out and play the best we can play and concentrate on us."