High School Sports

Don't forget the 'D': Bobcats dominating on both sides of ball

The dynamic offense fills the seats at Bluffton High School's Bobcat Stadium.

Every high school football conversation in the Bluffton community begins and ends with the offense, and some use its explosive abilities as evidence for why they believe this year's Bobcats are destined to play for a state championship.

But another unit is starting to make its way into the conversation, and this group is even prompting a few to ask a question that seemed to have a much more obvious answer before the season began: Can the Bluffton defense actually outperform an offense averaging more than 60 points per game?

You could argue it will. The defense has given up only 27 points in five games, all Bluffton victories, which puts it on pace to shatter school records.

Yet many still prefer to watch the high-powered offense and leave the defense as an afterthought -- opponents included.

And that's just the way the Bobcats defense likes it.

"If they don't know about us, how can they prepare for us?" defensive coordinator John Houpt asked. "Let them worry about the offense.

"There's no pressure on us. We get to go out there and play backyard football."

SURPRISING SUCCESS?

The Bobcats lost eight starters from last year's defense, a group that included two selections to the statewide North-South All-Star Game. It only seemed reasonable they would take a step back -- at least early in the season -- and allow the offense to carry the weight.

Michael Grant, the team's leading returning tackler, said the group was intent not to let that happen.

"Coming into this year, we knew our entire offense was coming back, and we knew we didn't have much coming back on defense," Grant said. "We put it on ourselves to work hard and not just let the offense win games for us. We wanted to make our contributions, too."

As simple -- and maybe even clichè -- as that sounds, Houpt said Grant's assessment is accurate: The team worked harder in the offseason than ever before.

With eight seniors gone, that meant eight starting positions were up for grabs, and players wanted to be a part of the turnaround at Bluffton. They utilized the new $40,000 weight room at the school and participated in every speed drill possible.

And the results speak for themselves -- the product has been a defense that allows less than two yards per play while forcing more than four turnovers per game.

Perhaps most impressively, the defense has actually scored more points (44) than it has allowed (27) in five games.

"We know people underestimate us," leading tackler Corey Stoner said. "They have from the beginning. We have to work 10 times harder to get rid of those thoughts."

THE STARTING 16

The Bobcats may have been left with three returning starters, but they feel they have a whole lot more than that now.

Bobcats coach Ken Cribb says he feels comfortable starting up to 16 different players to fill the 11-man unit, and Houpt says the rotation includes 22 players on any given night.

The competition within the team, Stoner said, may be the primary reason for the success.

"It definitely makes us work harder," Stoner said. "I know I didn't play as much as I wanted to last week, and that made me more fired up. I got in there, and I did a lot better when I did."

DOUBTERS REMAIN

Every week, Grant listens to opponents and even a few friends say that the quality of Bluffton's early-season schedule is the reason for the defensive's improvement.

He quickly points out that Bluffton played the same five teams to open 2010, and this year's squad has lowered the points allowed from 69 to 27.

It rarely works.

"I hate that stuff," Grant said. "It bothers me a lot. I hear that all the time."

But he knows the real time is coming to prove the doubters wrong on the field. The Bobcats open Region 7-AAA play at Lake Marion on Friday night, where the schedule is sure to pick up.

They seem poised for another deep run into the Class 3-A playoffs, as well, in which the defense admits it struggled a year ago against the state's best teams.

Grant said the defense will be ready this time.

"They'll get the same thing coming to them," Grant said. "Promise you that."

Bobcats defense by the numbers

9 -- Teams are converting just nine percent of third-down attempts against Bluffton.

100 -- No opponent has reached the century mark in either rushing or passing yards.

44 -- Bluffton's defense has scored seven touchdowns and record a safety, good for 44 points.

27 -- The defense has allowed only 27 points. That's 5.4 points per game allowed.

Team leaders

Tackles: Corey Stoner (37)

Sacks: Ladarius Hughes (5)

Turnovers: Michael Grant, Jaquan Campbell (3)

Touchdowns: Michael Grant (2)

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