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Plenty of highlights so far from area football teams

We're as close as we're going to get to the quarter pole of the high school football regular season -- because neither 10 nor 11 are divisible by four, if my math skills are correct -- so this seems like as good a time as any to reflect on the first seven games of the season.

With key games looming over the final weeks of the regular season, not to mention the playoffs, it's premature to hand out any awards. But it's never too early to speculate about who might take home the hardware.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

One of the great things about sports is the sometimes unpredictable nature, and that's more true at the high school level than any other. Area teams have provided plenty of surprises already this season. The nominees (so far) are:

  • Bluffton's 7-0 start: It was easy enough to conceive the Bobcats would be better than they have been in recent years, but it's almost impossible to imagine a team that has never won more than five games in a season will win its first seven to start the year. The Bobcats can add a whole other layer of shock if they manage to knock off Berkeley in two weeks.
  • Ridgeland's rise to top 10-caliber program: Again, it stood to reason than the Jaguars, who hosted a Class 2-A playoff game last year, would have a solid season after dropping down to Class 1-A. But the fact they pushed No. 4 Bamberg-Ehrhardt to the brink (and frankly should've won the game) and handed No. 9 Allendale-Fairfax a 35-22 loss indicates the Jaguars are ready to take another big step this year and make a deep run in the playoffs.
  • Beaufort High's defensive dominance: Sure, the Eagles returned eight defensive players who started last year's first-round playoff game against Greenwood, but two of the three players who weren't back happened to be inside linebackers Justin Parker and Brandon Frazier, who combined for 248 tackles a year ago. For Beaufort High to boast the best scoring defense in Class 4-A at 7.9 points per game is quite impressive.
  • TOP OFFENSIVE PLAYER

    This is more difficult than it should be, because some of the area's top offensive teams -- Beaufort High, Ridgeland and Bluffton -- have so many talented players at the skill positions that no one player is putting up huge numbers. With that in mind, the top contenders are:

  • Logan Mock, Thomas Heyward: Mock became the first area back to go over 1,000 rushing yards in Friday's win against First Baptist, and he also leads the Rebels in receiving, return yards and tackles.
  • Luke Sirgo, Hilton Head Christian: The two-time area offensive player of the year's passing numbers are down slightly this year, but he still has thrown for almost 1,100 yards with 18 touchdowns and only one interception. And now he's a serious rushing threat, with more than 300 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
  • Matt Layman, Hilton Head Prep: Another year, another round of huge numbers for Prep's senior quarterback. Layman went over 2,100 passing yards in Friday's 46-6 win at Northwood Academy, and he has 22 touchdowns and only four interceptions. More important, he has the Dolphins winning again.
  • TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYER

    For obvious reasons, I could fill up this section with Beaufort High players, but I won't. Almost, though. The top contenders are:

  • DeEndre Jefferson-Fields, Beaufort High: His stats don't necessarily bear it out, but Jefferson-Fields passes the eye test for me. Every time I've looked up over the past two games, he was in the opponent's backfield causing havoc.
  • Maliek Maldonado, Beaufort High: The Eagles needed someone to be a rock at inside linebacker with Parker and Frazier gone, and Maldonado has filled the bill. He seems to be in on nearly every tackle and has been responsible for his share of incompletions because receivers going over the middle could hear his heavy footsteps bearing down.
  • Raheem Williams, Hilton Head High: After a terrible start to the season, in large part because of an inability to stop the run, the Seahawks moved Williams from linebacker to defensive line, and it has made all the difference. He is among the area's leaders in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles and is a big reason why Hilton Head High has won three of its past four games.
  • TOP SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER

    Good kickers are hard to find in the high school ranks, but they can make all the difference. This one is a two-man race. The nominees are:

  • Weston Mott, Hilton Head High: Aside from Mott, no other kicker in the area has made more than one field goal -- Mott has made eight. He has been so consistent that the Seahawks didn't bother to run an offensive play in overtime Friday at Lake Marion, instead choosing to trot out Mott for a 27-yard field goal and a 24-21 win. He's also 13 for 13 on extra points, making him the only area kicker who hasn't missed one.
  • Kyle Clark, Beaufort High: The Eagles' punter and kickoff man has been as important to the streak of 12 consecutive scoreless quarters as anyone. Nearly every one of his kickoffs goes into the end zone for a touchback, and he is adept at angling punts to pin opponents deep in their own territory. He boomed two punts of more than 50 yards and angled another out of bounds at the 9 in Friday's 21-0 win against Wando.
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