Vinny Boni was aware of the chatter. The whole Bluffton football team was aware of it, for that matter.
The Bobcats entered their inaugural season in Class 4-A with their fair share of doubters, despite the heaps of success coach Ken Cribb and Co. had enjoyed at the Class 3-A level over the last two years. So, naturally, Bluffton entered Friday night's Region 8-AAAA debut against Beaufort High with something to prove.
They ended up doing much more than that.
The Bobcats turned what had been a four-point lead into a two-touchdown advantage late in the first half before shutting out the Eagles over the final two quarters en route to a 34-10 triumph over their rivals from across the bridge. It gave Cribb's team an early advantage in the league standings and delivered the Bobcats their third consecutive 7-0 start.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"No doubt, they think that we're not good enough," Boni said. "We just made a statement to everybody. It's a big deal. I hope everybody notices what we're capable of and how good we are. Don't underestimate us."
It was Boni who helped blow the game open with a 36-yard touchdown reception on third and long midway through the third quarter. The junior wing back suggested the play after seeing himself and some of his speedy Bluffton counterparts matched up against Beaufort High linebackers.
"I told Coach Cribb that they were playing one-on-one against us and that we could beat them with our speed," he said. "We called a play, I made it work and we got a touchdown."
Boni's score pushed the Bluffton advantage to 18 before Gerald Roberson capped the onslaught with a 1-yard plunge a quarter later. It turned what had been a tight 14-10 contest into just the latest Bluffton laugher.
"Things just went their way," Eagles tailback JaClay Mixon said. "They had more momentum than us."
That certainly wasn't the case early on. Beaufort High (3-4, 0-1) trailed by just four about two minutes before halftime, after Brady Cormier's 30-yard field goal.
But Bluffton (7-0, 1-0) sealed things on its final drive of the half after moving 80 yards in just 1:41. Marquis Webber provided the final dagger, as the senior hauled in a 16-yard touchdown pass -- his second of the night -- on a fourth-and-long play to put the Bobcats up 11.
Things went awry from there for the Eagles, who finished with five turnovers on their way toward a second consecutive loss. Beaufort High has been outscored 99-24 in those games.
"It's been a tough year all year long," coach Mark Clifford said. "We've gone against adversity every week. If we can turn this season around and win out like we know we can, it'll be a great little overcoming adversity story."
Webber, meanwhile, finished with seven catches for 147 yards and two scores, upping his season total to 11. He's racked up five of those in the last two games.
"I feel like I'm getting to play with a college receiver," said quarterback C.J. Frazier, who finished 20 of 33 for 310 yards and four touchdowns. "He could play in college right now and luckily I'm getting to play with him."
Frazier and Webber could end up playing together at the next level. Both hold scholarship offers to Newberry.
But for now, the two are concentrating on putting together yet another undefeated regular season for Bluffton.
And, of course, proving more people wrong along the way.
"It's just something for people to talk about," Frazier said of Bluffton's doubters. "They have to say that because we're new. It comes with the territory. But as long as we keep winning everything will be all right."
Bluffton 34, Beaufort High 10
Beaufort High 7 3 0 0 -- 10
Bluffton 7 14 7 6 -- 34
Bluffton--Demetrius Smalls 9 catch from C.J. Frazier (Sprouse kick), 7:54.
Beaufort--JaClay Mixon 15 rush (Brady Cormier kick), 3:46.
Bluffton--Marquis Webber 5 catch from Frazier (Sprouse kick), 9:16.
Beaufort--Cormier 30 kick, 2:16.
Bluffton--Webber 16 catch from Frazier (Sprouse kick), 0:35.
Bluffton--Vinny Boni 36 catch from Frazier (Sprouse kick), 5:05.
Bluffton--Gerald Roberson 1 rush (kick blocked), 6:42.
First Downs 12 19
Rushes-Yards 38-197 32-82
Comp-Att-Int 6-15-2 20-34-0
Passing Yards 96 310
Punts-Avg 6-36 1-42
Fumbles-Lost 5-3 2-1
Penalties-Yards 7-52 9-100
Third-Down Conv 3-10 3-12
Fourth-Down Conv 0-3 3-6
PASSING: Beaufort -- Ben Vaigneur 6-15-2-96. Bluffton -- C.J. Frazier 20-33-0-310, 4 TD, Vinny Boni 0-1-0-0.
RUSHING: Beaufort -- JaClay Mixon 25-191, Deontaye Singleton 6-41, Keaton Butler 1-0, Ben Vaigneur 6-(-35); Bluffton -- B.J. Hill 1-40, Marquis Webber 3-27, Demetrius Smalls 1-19, Gerald Roberson 3-18, Tykeem Major 9-16, Vinny Boni 3-15, K.J. Ford 2-2, William Dupont 2-(-4), C.J. Frazier 8-(-51).
RECEIVING: Beaufort -- Thomas Parker 4-80, Chris Tealey 1-9, JaClay Mixon 1-7; Bluffton -- Marquis Webber 7-147, Vinny Boni 3-73, Gerald Roberson 4-39, Demetrius Smalls 3-26, Harlan Kendrick 1-26, Chance Murphy 1-4, Tykeem Major 1-(-5).