High School Sports

Bluffton's dream season moves on, 34-30

Bluffton's Tony Burns, center, and B.J. Kitty, right, gang up on A.C. Flora ball carrier Edward Kirkland in the second quarter of Friday's playoff game. Looking on at left is Bluffton's Travis Ramsey.
Bluffton's Tony Burns, center, and B.J. Kitty, right, gang up on A.C. Flora ball carrier Edward Kirkland in the second quarter of Friday's playoff game. Looking on at left is Bluffton's Travis Ramsey. Jay Karr | The Island Packet

There was no time for a motivational speech or even for a few inspirational words of wisdom.

Frankly, Ken Cribb didn't even see the need anyway.

Bluffton High School's coach is well aware his team lacks experience in game-on-the-line moments, particularly in the postseason. And he can understand why most expected his team to panic when A.C. Flora took a pair of leads in the second half to erase Bluffton's 14-point lead in the opening quarter.

Consider him, however, one of the exceptions.

"I know my team's character," he said. "We know the fourth quarter is ours."

They owned it once again -- and in turn, they owned the game, as well, to keep their magical season alive at least one more week.

The Bobcats held off A.C. Flora's late surge for a 34-30 win in the second round of the Class 3-A playoffs. They will travel to Hartsville next Friday for the Lower State semifinals.

"It was tough -- I can't lie," Bobcats running back C.J. Johnson said. "But once again, it seems we find a way to win when we need to."

The Falcons' comeback left the game in doubt until the final seconds. Quarterback Stephen Cagle found Mac Rice in the end zone for the second time in the half with 1:01 to play, and A.C. Flora recovered the ensuing onside kick -- their third onside recovery of the night.

For the second time in as many playoff games, though, the Bobcats defense responded one final time. It held the Falcons to negative yardage over the final four plays to seal the win.

"We had to fight hard," linebacker Lewis Black said. "Winning a game like this -- that shows how much we wanted it. We just have a lot more heart than we've ever had before."

A.C. Flora didn't go easy, either. Johnson's pair of touchdowns gave Bluffton a quick 14-0 lead in the first quarter, but that was the largest lead for either team in the game.

The Falcons and Bobcats exchanged the lead four times in the second half during a game that turned into a shootout over the final two quarters.

The Falcons abandoned their running game in the final half -- though Edward Kirkland still finished with 142 rushing yards and a touchdown -- and turned to the air to mount their charge. Cagle completed 8 of 16 passes in the second half and threw for 190 yards and two touchdowns in the game.

Still, A.C. Flora's biggest weapon was the onside kick. After a Trevor Moreland field goal to open the second half, the Falcons (10-2) caught Bluffton off-guard with it, and Kirkland's 37-yard touchdown gave the them their first lead two plays later at 17-14.

"It's the story of our year," Cagle said. "I didn't see us do anything that we haven't done all year when we came back. Our senior class is amazing, and I'm sorry to see them go, because they lead us in these games."

Just as they have done throughout their record-setting season, the Bobcats (11-1) responded in an adverse situation. Sophomore quarterback C.J. Frazier -- who completed 7 of 8 passes for 131 yards -- found Corey Stoner for a touchdown to re-gain the lead.

The Bobcats added touchdown runs from Eric Boyles and Frazier in the fourth quarter to take a 34-24 lead. Boyles rushed for 75 yards and caught five passes for another 112 yards in the game.

Bluffton earned the right to move on to the third round of the Class 3-A playoffs, but it will be forced to travel for the first time this postseason because top-seeded Hartsville defeated Airport 20-17. The winner of the matchup will host the Lower State championship the following week.

"It's hard to believe this is where we are," Black said. "It gets better every week."

  Comments