Maybe it was the noon kickoff, with a little rust built in from spending the better part of two days cooped up by Tropical Storm Hermine. Not only could Bluffton’s dynamic offense not move the ball, it couldn’t hang onto it.
Eight snaps, three turnovers. And a seven-point deficit against Beaufort after the opening quarter.
The Bobcats soon found their footing, though, overtaking Beaufort with four unanswered touchdowns to pull away to a 35-14 romp in their clash of unbeatens.
Hunter Eldridge tossed touchdown passes to three different receivers during Bluffton’s rally, while Jermaine Patterson combined his TD catch with a 37-yard scoring scamper that put the Bobcats (3-0) ahead for good midway through the second quarter.
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“It was holding onto the football,” Bluffton coach Ken Cribb said. “You can’t turn it over like that, give it to them with such a short field, and expect them not to do something with it. We can’t do anything with it when we don’t have it.”
The Bobcats wound up amassing 323 yards of total offense, and that doesn’t factor in Cam Bent’s 94-yard kickoff return for Bluffton’s first touchdown.
“I don’t feel like we were ever threatened once we got rolling,” Cribb said.
Beaufort (2-1) scored all of its points in the opening quarter. Tim Clark cashed in a 2-yard interception return on Bluffton’s second series, and Omar Cummings’ 1-yard TD plunge capped a short drive after Clark recovered a Patterson fumble.
Clark had one other recovery in the quarter, too, scooping up Bent’s fumble on a Cummings hit.
“Our kids came out fired up and played well,” said Beaufort coach Mark Clifford, whose team now has lost three of the past four meetings in the rivalry. “They had some big plays in the game, but we couldn’t get a whole lot going on offense.”
Beaufort’s three-headed ground attack of Cummings, Wyatt Sherpensky and Kyleik Middleton, which had averaged 240 yards as a trio through two games, was held to just 72 Saturday. Backup quarterback Jeffrey Smyth wound up as the Eagles’ top rusher, operating the read option for 55 yards on 12 carries.
“We made a few mistakes here and there,” Cribb said, “but for the most part they played a really good game. Coach (John) Haupt and his defensive staff, they do an incredible job on that side of the ball.”
The Bobcats, trailing 14-7 after one quarter, picked up their rhythm to score on three of their next four possessions. Patterson’s 16-yard TD catch on a post route brought the Bobcats within one after D.J. Chappelear’s extra-point attempt was blocked.
Dylan Lapinski’s diving interception of a Clayton Ruff pass set up Bluffton’s go-ahead score, as Patterson took the snap and picked his way into the Beaufort secondary before breaking free down the left sideline. Ashby Cribb ran home a 2-point conversion for a 21-14 lead.
After Beaufort was forced to punt, Eldridge drove the Bobcats 79 yards to their third TD of the quarter. Tyrese Sandgren capped the march by going high for Eldridge’s perfectly placed pass at the left pylon for a 28-14 lead.
Eldridge finished with 202 yards through the air. Patterson tallied 71 yards on three catches, adding 35 yards rushing on four carries.
Beaufort missed a scoring opportunity when Will Durbin’s 38-yard field goal attempt barely missed left. The Eagles also hurt themselves with four turnovers of their own, along with 67 yards in penalties.
“We’ve got a pretty good football team, but we’ve got to patch it up,” Clifford said. “The boys are feeling pretty down right now. We’ve got to patch it up and get back to work and pick up where we left off.”