Bluffton's impressive run over the last two-plus seasons has naturally made the Bobcats the focal point of football in the Lowcountry. But coach Ken Cribb's team will have to take a backseat this week, because the B.J. Payne era is about to begin at Hilton Head Island High School.
Payne, who was hired in January to replace Tim Singleton, will make his debut as coach of the Seahawks Friday night against Whale Branch Early College High School. Kick-off is set for 7:30 at Hilton Head Island Community Stadium.
Payne, who came to Hilton Head High after six seasons at Lexington (Ohio) High School, has high expectations for this group of Seahawks. That's due in part to blossoming 6-foot-5 senior quarterback Michael Julian, who continues to boost his recruiting stock.
Julian and the Seahawks will operate exclusively out of the spread this season while utilizing more of the quarterback's running prowess. They will play fast, too. Word is that Hilton Head High may be taking snaps as quickly as every 9-10 seconds in the coming weeks, depending on how soon they pick up on the system.
They could learn a thing or two about offense from their rivals across the bridge in Bluffton. The Bobcats were at their usual game in Week 0, as they put up 43 points in the first half against Whale Branch. Quarterback C.J. Frazier threw four touchdown passes and ran for another in the rout of the over-matched Warriors, who will have signal-caller Brandon Morton back in the starting lineup Friday night against the Seahawks.
Bluffton will continue to move closer to its Region 8-AAAA schedule this week, as it hosts Class 2-A Ridgeland-Hardeeville at 7:30 p.m. in Bobcat Stadium. The Jaguars are playing in their inaugural game under coach Blake Raley.
Whale Branch at Hilton Head High, 7:30 p.m.
Look for the Seahawks to try and exploit the Warriors' defensive line with a heavy dose of running backs Scott D'Amico and Khalil Lewis. Whale Branch has only nine lineman listed on its official roster, and coach Jerry Hatcher's team will be without starting guard P.M. Israel, according to my colleague Stephen Fastenau. (You can also read his thoughts on Whale Branch, Beaufort High and Battery Creek at that link.)
Israel, who separated his shoulder and is expected out more than a week, will be replaced by sophomore Nathan Guersney.
Payne's take: "We’re obviously excited. The biggest thing for us is we’ve only had a chance to see somebody else live one time. To get out there against somebody else and get the started will be great. The kids are excited, the coaching staff is excited. Everything is coming along offensively and defensively."
Prediction: Brandon Morton's return at quarterback for Whale Branch will help make this a better game than last week's shellacking at Bluffton. And while the jury may still be out on Hilton Head High, B.J. Payne's team should still prevail. The Seahawks win, 28-13.
Ridgeland-Hardeeville at Bluffton, 7:30 p.m.
Cribb said Frazier looked "as good as he's ever looked" last Friday against Whale Branch, so expect him to build on that solid performance. The quarterback continues to be more of a vocal leader this year, which is necessary considering the Bobcats' youth at some of the other skill positions.
Cribb was quick to give props to Ridgeland-Hardeeville, despite the two schools struggling individually against Bluffton a season ago. The only thing Cribb seemed to remember, however, was Ridgeland's opening drive in last season's 60-14 win.
Here's what the Bobcats coach had to say, as told to my colleague Mike McCombs: "Last year, we had a great team and they took the opening drive and shoved it down our throats for a touchdown. They’re not going to be in any game where they don’t match up physically and where they don’t match up in speed. If they don’t make mistakes and turn the ball over, they’re going to be in every game. I hear a lot of noise about size of schools, I’m not going to schedule someone who can’t defend themselves."
Prediction: Bluffton beat Hardeeville and Ridgeland last year by an average score of 61-7. Some of the Bobcats' new skill position players are still learning the ropes, but it should end up as another convincing victory with quarterback C.J. Frazier at the helm. Bluffton wins, 56-10.