High School Sports

Bluffton sees a lot of itself in AC Flora

They aren't quite mirror images -- and on film they may look nothing alike -- but on paper, they're awfully close.

A pair of schools that missed the playoffs last season. Each of which enters tonight's game -- a second round Class 3-A playoff game, no less -- with a 10-1 overall record and on the verge of reaching 400 points for the season.

And impressively enough, Bluffton High School and A.C. Flora have done it without the benefit of a superstar. Neither team will bring a 1,000-yard rusher or even a 600-yard receiver into tonight's postseason matchup.

Instead, the Bobcats and Falcons have gone back to a team concept that has helped make them two of the state's biggest turnarounds in terms of win total.

One of the two, however, will end tonight when Region 7-AAA champion Bluffton hosts the Falcons at 7:30 at Bobcat Stadium. The winner will advance to the Class 3-A Lower State semifinal matchup next week, facing the winner of Hartsville and Airport.

"It's going to be a battle -- a lot of similarities between us," Bobcats coach Ken Cribb said. "They have a whole team. They don't have a lot of weaknesses. It's a good mix. And that's what we've found -- a good mix."

A.C. Flora tied for first in Region 5-AAA but was handed third place with the region's three-way tiebreaker. The Bobcats also finished a three-way tie for first in Region 7-AAA, but they won the league's tiebreaker.

Bluffton put their top seed to good use last week, earning a 24-21 win against Lakewood in the first round of the postseason, giving the Bobcats their first playoff win in school history.

Despite the team's inexperience of playing in the postseason, Cribb said his team played its best when the game was on the line. The Bobcats defense came up with a key four-down stop with four minutes to play to seal the win.

"Again, they keep surprising me, the way they handle everything," Cribb said. "I haven't seen them stress or get overly anxious yet. Lakewood punched us in the mouth with their offensive line, but when the game was on the line, our guys weren't going to let it slip."

The Falcons will bring a different style of football to Bobcat Stadium tonight. Whereas Lakewood relied primarily on one player for its offense, A.C. Flora's attack is much more diverse.

The Falcons use tailback Edward Kirkland and bruising fullback Sterling Mitchell mostly out of the I-formation, though they will occasionally line up 6-foot-3 quarter Stephen Cagle in the spread. Cagle's favorite target has been 6-3 Sam Caldera, who has nine receiving touchdowns this year.

Where the two teams differ, however, may be defensively. The Bobcats have held opponents to just 14 points per game this year by stopping the run and the pass with success; the Falcons, on the other hand, are allowing nearly 20 points per contest and have relied on an opportunistic defense. They have forced 30 turnovers this year.

"They're a team that isn't going to make many mistakes," Cribb said. "That keeps them in a lot of ballgames. And if you make mistakes against them, they take advantage."

The Bobcats enter tonight's game with a full arsenal of offensive weapons. Desmond Jenkins, who played sparingly a week ago, is expected to make a full return. Running backs Zachary Scott and C.J. Johnson are also both healthy.

"We're right where we want to be -- we're peaking right now," Cribb said. "I don't think we're ready for it to be over."

Who: A.C. Flora (10-1, 4-1 Region 5-AAA) at Bluffton High School (9-1, 4-1 Region 7-AAA)

When: Today, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Bobcat Stadium

Projected starters

Bluffton

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.

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