Jeff Shain

Friday’s 5 to Watch: Is it a rivalry, or merely a reunion?


The natural tendency is to label it a rivalry. But is it? Yet?

Siblings can make the fiercest rivals, and Bluffton and May River eventually may become that. But the Sharks are going through that whole walk-before-you-can-run stage, and there’s no thrill in blindsiding baby brother to the living room carpet.

And if you tried, woe be upon you if Mom or Dad noticed.

1. For all his years in coaching, Bluffton’s Ken Cribb isn’t sure what to think of Friday night’s first visit from the Sharks.

“I’ve never played against my younger kids before,” Cribb said. “It’s a new experience. I’m having a hard time finding a way to describe it.”

Cribb estimates he knows “probably 95 percent” of May River’s roster, having watched them develop on Bluffton’s junior varsity and freshman squads before the split took place this summer. Considering Friday’s game is at Bobcat Stadium, it might transport Cribb to another time.

“This probably sounds horrible, but it feels like my spring game,” he admitted. “Maybe there’s something wrong with me there. I just feel like I’m playing my own team. It’s just hard for me to describe it.”

Though May River struggled at times in its opening loss to Hanahan, Cribb had plenty of praise for the work Rodney Summers has done in laying the program’s foundation.

“Looking at them, you can’t tell they’re such a young team,” he said. “I think they’ve got a bright future. They’re probably coming along ahead of schedule. I know we can’t take them lightly. They’re coming over here to try and whip us.”

It’ll become a rivalry, of course, when little brother starts hitting back.

2. By now, Battery Creek would love for this to be the year to strike back against Beaufort. Just like last year, and the year before, and ...

The last time Battery Creek brought down the Eagles, the U.S. had just toppled Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected governor of California. John Paul II was still a pope, not yet a school.

The year was 2003, and Fred Hamilton was one year removed from his first stint as Dolphins coach.

“We beat them three out of the four years I was there,” said Hamilton, back in the job after a 14-year detour.

The 2003 meeting made it four out of five, before Mark Clifford took over the Beaufort program. The Eagles now have won 10 straight, and appear well-positioned to make it 11.

While Beaufort opened with a road victory at Wando, the Dolphins were still learning on the fly in their loss at Swansea. Hamilton, who took the reins in June, estimated he had only about 55 percent of the playbook that he’d usually have for a season opener.

“It was a struggle,” Hamilton said. “We were actually installing some things the day before the game, special teams and a few things on defense. ... Looking at Beaufort, they’re a more polished team than we are.”

3. Hilton Head Island and Whale Branch join the party this week, opening their seasons against each other.

“I don’t like Week Zero,” said Warriors coach Jerry Hatcher, who now has gladly cooled his heels during opening week for three straight years.

With his typically small roster, Hatcher prefers the extra preseason week as opposed to an open date somewhere in the middle of the schedule. That’s an even bigger sentiment this year, with an abundance of freshmen and sophomores at his skill positions.

“Every rep we can get is going to help us,” said Hatcher. “We’re going to start two ninth-graders Friday night. We’ll be dotted with JV players all over the place.”

Hatcher just hopes for better special teams than last year’s meeting, a 49-0 loss in which four Seahawks TDs were set up by punt-team mistakes.

“I told our kids we can’t go out and play (against) Whale Branch and Hilton Head,” he said. “Let’s just play Hilton Head. Eliminate our own mistakes.”

4. John Paul II running back Rashad Battiste stayed under the radar all preseason. No longer.

Not after last week’s 239-yard performance against Hilton Head Christian that ranked as one of the state’s best, nearly bringing victory in JP2’s first foray into 11-man football.

“I think he’s going to be OK,” quipped Golden Warriors coach Kevin Wald, noting that Battiste had knee surgery in the spring — hence no buzz — and hadn’t been cleared until Monday of game week.

“We’ve got to continue to get him in shape, continue to monitor him and not overdo it with him.”

5. Though one week doesn’t make a trend, keep an eye out for huge returns.

No fewer than six touchdowns last week were scored on returns of some kind, including Hilton Head Christian’s James Bartholomew taking back both a punt and a kickoff for scores. Bartholomew’s 88-yard kickoff return immediately followed JP2’s Karl Johnson running back a 94-yard pick-six.

It’s safe to say special teams got plenty of attention around the area this week, not to mention ball protection.