By Justin Jarrett | LowcoSports@gmail.com
Concerns about the Bluffton High School football team’s offense were premature.
After a slow start to the season, the Bobcats appear to be in full stride after turning in their most balanced offensive effort to date in a 51-22 win over visiting Whale Branch on Friday.
The Bobcats’ lethal duo of quarterback Hunter Eldridge and receiver Jermaine Patterson continued what it has done all season, as Eldridge was 14-for-24 for 250 yards with five touchdowns and one interception and Patterson caught eight passes for 182 yards and four scores.
It was Bluffton’s ability to run the ball that indicated the Bobcats have snapped out of their early-season funk, though. Josh Staple provided a much-needed spark to the running game, picking up 57 yards on 12 carries, and I’Kiem Jefferson (48 yards on 10 carries) and John Swinton (45 yards on seven carries) found running room.
“Everyone got involved tonight, and that’s what I want to see,” Bluffton coach John Houpt said. “If the defense focuses on one, there’s still five other guys out there. It felt good to get into a little rhythm and be able to run the ball and not have to call a pass play every time.”
That’s not to say the Bobcats are without their flaws. The run defense continues to be worrisome, as Whale Branch workhorse Irvin Mulligan rolled up 184 yards on 20 carries and scored twice, including an impressive 66-yard touchdown burst in the first quarter.
The Warriors went back to basics on offense with quarterback Marion Smalls sidelined with a dislocated elbow, and their simplified running game was effective. They also had some bright spots on defense, including Jaheem Hazel’s 52-yard interception return for a touchdown and a fourth-quarter safety.
Whale Branch (0-4) has endured a brutal early-season schedule, facing only Class 3A and 4A schools from Beaufort County leading into Region 6-2A play, which begins next week at defending region champion Woodland, a game coach Jerry Hatcher says the Warriors must win to have a chance to win the region.
“The fact of the matter is if you don’t beat Woodland, you’re not going to win the region, because you’ve got to figure no one else is going to beat them,” Hatcher said. “We figure we’re the only one that can beat them.”