STATESBORO, Ga. — If Bluffton needed any additional spark as it embarked on this season of soaring expectations, it got it Saturday night.
Richard Jenkins forced a fumble on a late sack, then scored the go-ahead points with a 1-yard plunge with as the Bobcats stormed back from a 15-point deficit for a frenetic 32-25 triumph over Screven County (Ga.) in the Erk Russell Classic.
Bluffton (1-0) trailed 25-10 midway through the third period before roaring back with three unanswered touchdowns. Jermaine Patterson began the comeback with a 2-yard TD romp, with I'kiem Jefferson sprinting 71 yards for a score on the next series.
"Our kids just fought and fought, never gave up," Bluffton coach Ken Cribb said. "They didn't panic, didn't point fingers. They picked each other up and got back in this game."
Victory came over a Screven County squad that ranks among the favorites in Georgia's Class 2A, with 17 starters back from last season's 10-2 squad.
"They're better than anybody realizes," Cribb said. "That was a great game."
Patterson also scored on an 8-yard run in the first half, while D.J. Chappelear booted a 26-yard field goal.
Tyquan Johnson had a pair of touchdown catches to lead Screven County, but the Gamecocks (0-1) couldn't penetrate any deeper than the Bluffton 37 over the final 17 1/2 minutes.
Screven County failed on a fourth-down run from its own 25 with four minutes left, giving Bluffton a chance to take the lead. Chappelear, though, was wide left with a 38-yard field goal as the ball went back to the Gamecocks.
That was where Jenkins took the game into his own hands. With the Gamecocks facing third-and-9 from their own 21, the Bluffton linebacker zeroed in on Armani Bunbury, jarring the ball loose as he knocked
him backward.Chris Brantley fell on the ball, giving Bluffton possession at the SCHS 12 with 1:50 left.
The Bobcats ran it four times, picking up a first down, before Jenkins took the decisive handoff.
"It was just belief," Cribb said. "Sticking to what we believe in, what we do. They fought through it. What an incredible job by them."
The Bobcats ran up 211 yards on the ground, with Jefferson's 71-yard jaunt making up most of his 101-yard performance. Hunter Eldridge threw for 70 yards, but spent much of the second half on the bench as
the Bobcats found success with Patterson directing a running attack.
Bunbury threw for 82 yards and ran for 69 more to lead Screven County, which lost its big fullback, C.J. Wright, late in the game when he lost his helmet and subsequently was knocked out.
"We're praying for him," Cribb said. "He's a great kid. He came to, was trying to get up, saying he's gotta finish."
Both teams will want to clean up the penalties as they combined for more than 230 yards in penalty yardage.
Johnson's two leaping TD grabs allowed Screven County take a 19-10 lead into halftime as the Gamecocks cashed in on a series of Bluffton mistakes late in the half.
The Bobcats led 7-6 after the opening quarter and pushed the advantage to 10-6 on D.J. Chappelear's 26-yard field goal on their first series of the second period. But a pair of Bluffton penalties helped the
Gamecocks respond with an 11-play drive that ended in Johnson's 18-yard TD catch with 3:12 left.
A pass interference flag against Reggie Jones moved the ball into Bluffton territory, and the Bobcats were called for roughing the passer two snaps later to set up Screven County at the Bluffton 27.
Bluffton's next series lasted just three plays as Jermaine Patterson fumbled at the end of a reception from Eldridge. Teviyon Mingle's recovery gave the Gamecocks possession at the Bluffton 32, and Johnson
outfought a Bluffton defender at the back of the end zone for a 20-yard TD with 1:53 left before half.
Jeff Shain: 843-706-8123, @JeffShain