The first — and most often — question I was asked before the 2011 high school football season began was this: Are the Bluffton Bobcats actually good enough to win a state championship?
I’m usually willing to argue just about anything (and win all of them, of course), but I think my unusually noncommittal answers on the topic varied from “Maybe.” to “I don’t know.” to “Let’s just wait and see.”
The answer I usually hear from most of you: They haven’t played any quality teams, so the ones they’re about to face in the playoffs will hit them like a ton of bricks.
Well, we’re about to find out just how good the Bobcats really are. The postseason begins Friday night — it’s about time — and Bluffton has an incredibly difficult draw. But if it’s really state championship or bust, as Bobcats coach Ken Cribb says, you have to beat everyone anyway, so what’s it matter how tough the early draw is?
First things first, though. Bluffton hosts Georgetown tonight in the first round of the playoffs and will have its hands full right off the bat. Hilton Head High, meanwhile, travels to defending state champion Myrtle Beach, a team which they’ve never lost to, but odds favor that streak ending Friday night.
Here’s a breakdown of each team’s season, first-round opponent and road to the championship Dec. 3.
How they got here: The Bobcats ran the table in the regular season for the first time in school history and take the state’s top ranking into the postseason. They outscored opponents 605-54 in 10 games, breaking the state’s single-year regular season scoring record in the process. They have trailed at halftime only once — 14-7 against Cane Bay — but came back to win that game 42-14, their slimmest margin of victory this season.
About the first-round opponent (Georgetown): The Bulldogs have to be one of the most competitive No. 4 seeds in the state, largely because they finished in a three-way tie for second place before losing the tiebreaker. Offensively, the Bulldogs run the spread formation but still like to run the football with running backs Leonard Leak and Julian Lunsford, both of who average more than five yards per carry. Defensively, the Bulldogs rely on defensive ends Trenton Grate-Reed and LeeShawn Cromedy to carry the load. Both are big, physical, athletic defensive lineman.
Up next: In my opinion, Bluffton has the toughest draw in the Class 3-A Lower State. A win means the Bobcats would have to host Hartsville in the second round before traveling to Myrtle Beach in the third round, and that’s just to get to the Lower State title game. It’s no easy task to win a state championship. Getting there through the Lower State’s best version of Murderer’s Row is even more difficult.
First-round prediction: Bluffton 42, Georgetown 21
Hilton Head High (4-6)
How they got here: The Seahawks finished fourth in Region 7-AAA, picking up wins against Battery Creek and Lake Marion to earn a playoff spot. The combined win total of the four teams they beat is seven. The Seahawks showed steady improvement throughout the year, using their passing game to score more points and a more physical defense to keep them in games. They still lack a running game though, so look for the Seahawks to try to use its passing game in the playoffs.
About the first-round opponent (Myrtle Beach): Myrtle Beach is the Class 3-A defending champion, and many argue it’s still the state’s best Class 3-A team. The Seahawks are also a team that relies on the pass, and they have a pair of quarterbacks — C.J. Cooper and Tyler Keane — that rotate snaps equally. The two have combined for 35 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Myrtle Beach has also struggled to run the ball, averaging only 2.7 yards per carry this season.
Up next: As a No. 4 seed, Hilton Head High will be forced to travel throughout its postseason journey, should it continue beyond Friday night. The winner of Friday’s game will face the winner of Airport and Lakewood.
First-round prediction: Myrtle Beach 42, Hilton Head High 7