It seems like whenever anyone wants to talk about Bluffton's 2012 football team, one of the prerequisites for conversation is bringing up the Bobcats' move from Class 3-A to Class 4-A.
Coach Ken Cribb's team will get its first taste of that level tomorrow night at Bobcat Stadium. The only difference, though, is their opponent doesn't hail from South Carolina.
Bluffton (2-0) welcomes South Effingham, a Class 4-A program from Georgia which begins the season with its own share of high expectations. The Bobcats, meanwhile, are gunning for their third consecutive 3-0 start to the season.
More on that game below.
Across the bridge, coach B.J. Payne's team is still searching for its first win of the season. Hilton Head Island High School was upset in its season opener, 29-28, at the hands of Whale Branch. The Seahawks (0-1) will face off against newly-formed Ridgeland-Hardeeville, which enters with its own set of issues. The Jaguars were manhandled, 67-0, by Bluffton in Week 1.
South Effingham at Bluffton, 7:30 p.m.
Talking about Bluffton's offense gets pretty repetitive, doesn't it? The Bobcats have averaged 58.5 points per game through their first two contests, quarterback C.J. Frazier has thrown for 342 yards and seven touchdowns, and Bluffton's new wing backs -- Vinny Boni and Gerald Roberson -- have combined for five total touchdowns.
The Bobcats' offense will no doubt face a bigger test against the Mustangs than it did through the first two games. But it's still almost a foregone conclusion that Bluffton will get points when it needs them.
The bigger story is on the defensive side of the football, as South Effingham features one of the country's up-and-coming tailbacks in senior Josh Mercer. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound running back, who is listed as a three-star prospect by Yahoo! Sports, has garnered FBS offers from Florida, Georgia Tech, N.C. State, Tennesee and Wake Forest.
Stopping Mercer, who rushed for over 1,300 yards last season, will fall to to the Bluffton linebackers. Expect big games from Michael Meyerink, Jaquan Campbell and Liam Finn. The trio combined for 44 stops and 10 tackles for loss through the first two games.
Here's Cribb's take: "We're so balanced defensively. We have great speed on that side of the ball. Everybody's doing a great job with their assignments. As long as we don't have a breakdown in responsibility, we should be in great shape."
As for the Bobcats offense, Cribb said, "I'm sure they're concentrating real hard on trying to stop what we do best. I can't quite figure that out myself. We use such a wide array of things, it just depends. Whether we're running or throwing. Honestly, we're just going to go into it watching to see what they give us."
Prediction: This is unquestionably the Bobcats' toughest game to date so far in the early season. And while South Effingham presents a formidable opponent on the ground in Mercer, Bluffton's explosive offense will offset any potential defensive breakdowns. Look for a Bluffton win in this one, 45-17.
Ridgeland-Hardeeville at Hilton Head High, 7:30 p.m.
Not many people saw last week's upset at Whale Branch on the horizon. Sure, I correctly predicted that the Seahawks would score 28 points, but never did I think they'd give up one more to the Class 1-A Warriors.
Payne has talked in recent days about capitalizing on the same opportunity Whale Branch had entering Week 1. The Warriors dropped a 50-0 laugher to Bluffton the week prior before upending Hilton Head High seven days later.
But Ridgeland-Hardeeville has that same chance, as Blake Raley's team was shut down and shut out by the Bobcats a week ago. Which team will capitalize on the opportunity to claim its first win?
Stopping the run is naturally the key for the Seahawks this week, as the Jaguars passed just twice in their loss to Bluffton. One of those attempts fell incomplete while the other went for an interception. The Warriors presented a unique challenge a week ago, as wide receiver Dee Delaney torched Hilton Head High in the first half while their ground game churned out yardage after halftime while the Seahawks were honing in on Delaney.
That won't be an issue this week. Ridgeland-Hardeeville carried the ball 31 times a week ago but managed only five yards on the ground. In case you're wondering, that's good for a 0.2 yards per carry average.
Here's what Payne had to say: "They're similar to us, trying to put everything together. They like to run the ball, play a little smash mouth and come at you. That's what they do. ... The biggest thing for us is we have to worry about us. We have to get better this week. We have to make sure we get better each and every week."
Prediction: The Hilton Head High defense should be better than it was a week ago. And with the Seahawks' offense looking to be on track (quarterback Michael Julian threw for 265 yards and four scores last week while wideout Adam Orischak hauled in three touchdowns), Hilton Head High should claim its first win of the season. My take? Seahawks win, 51-10.
Bonus pick: We've got some Thursday night flavor tonight, as Hilton Head Christian Academy hosts Bible Baptist. The game will be broadcast on a 30-minute delay by WSAV on DirecTV Ch. 29 and at 11 a.m. Sunday on WSAV-TV.
The Eagles were blown out, 37-0, by Hammond School two weeks ago in their season opener. But with two weeks to prepare, Hilton Head Christian will roll against the visitors. Final: Hilton Head Christian wins, 30-14.