There has been plenty of buildup for Friday’s third-round playoff game between Bluffton and Myrtle Beach. Heck, the trash talk started Saturday on Myrtle Beach’s team website. From what I can tell, it seems the two teams genuinely don’t like each other, which often makes for a fun game.
But I’m obligated to remind you there was plenty of buildup last season — perhaps even more — and we were left with a 47-0 dud won by an impressive Myrtle Beach football team.
The Bobcats have closed that gap. They have more players back from last year, they’re a year older, they have a better offense than last season and they have a much-improved defense. But have they closed the gap 47 points? I’m not quite so sure.
Read on for my prediction, and look for these three burning questions to decide Friday’s outcome:
Bluffton (12-0) at Myrtle Beach (11-1)
1. Can the Bobcats protect quarterback C.J. Frazier?: Bluffton’s pistol offense is based on timing between Frazier and his receivers. The easiest way to disrupt that timing is to put Frazier under heavy pressure. Myrtle Beach did that with surprising ease last season, which is why they shut out the Bobcats, and the Seahawks have the personnel to do it again this year. Bluffton will have to protect Frazier better if it plans on sustaining drives Friday night.
2. Who will win the special teams battles?: Both these teams look for scoring opportunities from all three units, and they have both found success with their special teams. Myrtle Beach has four return touchdowns this season. I believe Bluffton has the better offense in this matchup, but the Seahawks can make up for that by scoring with its special teams or defense. Those two units have combined for 12 touchdowns this year.
3. Will the Bobcats make big plays on defense?: The No. 1 reason I expect a closer game is the Bobcats’ improvement on defense and the Seahawks’ one-dimensional offense. Myrtle Beach has been poor with its running game this season, leaving quarterbacks C.J. Cooper and Tyler Keane to carry the load in the passing game in their first seasons of playing time. If Bluffton can force a couple of key turnovers Friday night, it will put a lot of pressure on Myrtle Beach’s defense to do the same.
Up next: The winner will face the winner of A.C. Flora and Cane Bay in the Class 3-A Lower State championship. The winner of Bluffton and Myrtle Beach will travel if A.C. Flora wins and host the title game if Cane Bay wins.
My prediction: Bluffton 21, Myrtle Beach 17