The Class 4-A football playoffs have arrived. A home football game for the Bluffton Bobcats, though, hasn't.
After dropping its first game of the season last week at Summerville, the Bobcats (10-1) missed out on their first Region 8-AAAA championship and the right to host in the first round. Instead, they travel to South Florence (7-4) tonight at 7:30 for the right to advance to the second round.
Bluffton fell in an early 21-0 hole last week before fighting its way back into it. South Florence, meanwhile, dropped a 33-10 decision to West Florence but still made the playoffs thanks to Carolina Forest's double overtime upset victory over Conway.
"The thing that I was proud about was that everybody took the right approach to it," quarterback C.J. Frazier said. "We have to make sure that no matter what, we have to step up our preparation for each week. We have to make sure we step it up even harder. If we lost to Summerville it's because we didn't prepare enough for Summerville. We have to make sure we never do that to ourselves again. Everybody understands that."
Tonight marks coach Ken Cribb's return to South Florence, where he coached from 2001-2006 while leading the Bruins to a pair of playoff appearances. Does it feel weird to return to your old stomping grounds, coach?
"It does. I've had that question asked by a bunch of my friends that texted me," he said. "My answer is, I have history there, a lot of emotions. It’s going to be weird, different. But at kickoff on 7:30 (tonight), I’m coach of the Bluffton Bobcats."
This one obviously means so much more to the third-year Bluffton coach. Just ask his quarterback.
"He’s told us that it’s important to him," Frazier said. "He’s done so much for us that we want to do whatever we can for him. If it’s really that important to him, we need to do it for him, because he’s done whatever he can for us."
The Bobcats match up well with their playoff counterparts. The Bruins are a spread team that features Shrine Bowler TE/DE Fabian Jefferson, who leads the offense with 30 receptions for 422 yards and six touchdowns while topping the athletic 4-2-5- defense with 15 sacks. South Florence also features a solid ground game behind Jamall Cain (162 rushes, 916 yards, 11 touchdowns), but the running back may not play tonight after suffering a concussion last week.
That's good news for the Bobcats, who will also be without one of their own in linebacker Rogan Ferguson. The defender, who is out with a concussion, leads Bluffton with 107 tackles while adding 11 tackles for loss.
Bluffton's biggest concern may have been the short week. The Bobcats lost a day of preparation after being forced to travel to South Florence, which shares a stadium with its West rival. That means Bluffton's normally light Thursday walk-through turned into a relatively normal day of practice on Wednesday, denying Bobcats players a chance at valuable rest.
"I think that’s the factor that’s affected the most is putting us on a different schedule," Cribb said. "You’re missing one day of rest. Thursday is always a day of rest as much as anything. You want to recover and take a day off before you go to battle."
Should the Bobcats come out on the winning end tonight, they will have an extra day to prepare for what will likely be the toughest game in program history. That's a probable date with the Goose Creek Gators, who are ranked No. 1 in-state while checking in at No. 11 in the USA Today Super 25 national rankings.
"It’s hard not to think about it," Frazier said. "People bring it up and stuff like that. We’re completing focused on (South) Florence. Next week we’ll come to that when it comes."
Cribb has already taken a peek at the undefeated Gators, who are the defending Class 4-A Division II state champs -- thanks to a 24-game playoff winning streak -- with all but one of those wins coming by double digits.
"It’s going to be like a state championship," he said. "I don't think Goose Creek is hard to prepare for because they don’t get out of what they do at all. They don’t run a lot of different plays, a lot of different defenses. But what they do do they do real well and real physical. I don’t think that’s a real problem. the challenge is going to be how you match up and how you stop them."
The prediction here is Bluffton gets that shot at Goose Creek next week. The Bobcats win a shootout tonight at South Florence, 37-30.