Feel that? That’s playoff weather.
The air will be crisp at 7:30 tonight when the high school football playoffs hit the second round with a dwindling number of local teams still vying for state championships.
Two area squads hit the road to take on undefeated Goliaths, while two others hope the home-field advantage will help them prolong their seasons for at least another week.
Here’s the rundown:
Bluffton (7-3) at Gilbert (11-0)
After surviving a thriller against visiting Hanahan last week, the Bobcats take on the role of the road underdog in the second round. The undefeated Indians have played only one game that was decided by fewer than 14 points – a 28-21 win over Strom Thurmond – and that was also the only game in which they scored fewer than 33 points.
Gilbert has two solid backs in Cody Temples and DeAndre Cook running behind Class 3A Lineman of the Year Erikson Abney, and the Indians can throw it to Manny Bright, one of the state’s top receivers.
The Bobcats have some offensive prowess of their own, but they will probably have to win a shootout to advance, and that would mean a big game from Jermaine Patterson, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Hunter Eldridge last week.
Prediction: Gilbert 43, Bluffton 27
Batesburg-Leesville (6-5) at Whale Branch (6-4)
This is a matchup of very similar teams in that both took their lumps against larger schools but are better than their overall records indicate. The Warriors might have been lulled into a false sense of security after rolling through their region, but they were popped in the mouth in the first half last week and had to snap out of it quickly to rally for a 30-27 win. They will need to be better prepared this week.
Running back Tay Wilson and quarterback Bishop Cannon give the Panthers a balanced attack, and Whale Branch’s sometimes inconsistent defense will need to tackle well and limit big plays. The Warriors force a ton of turnovers when they’re on their game, and they’ll need a couple takeaways to get the job done tonight.
And, of course, the biggest key for Whale Branch is getting Irvin Mulligan going – he has topped 100 yards in nine of 10 games this season, and the Warriors will need him to do it again to keep their state title hopes alive for another week.
Prediction: Whale Branch 32, Batesburg-Leesville 30
Pee Dee Academy (7-4) at Thomas Heyward (9-2)
The Rebels are another team who survived sleepwalking into their first-round playoff matchup, as they needed overtime to hold off Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach for a 20-14 win last week. They cannot afford a similar effort against a strong Pee Dee team.
The Eagles will test Thomas Heyward’s secondary in a way no one has this season, as junior quarterback Jake Lane has passed for over 3,000 yards and 39 touchdowns and has a ton of capable targets.
The Rebels had one of their quietest offensive games of the season last week, as star running back J.R. Patterson was held to his second-lowest rushing output of the season. They need to get him back on track to have a shot at keeping pace with the Eagles, and they can’t afford to fall behind early.
Prediction: Thomas Heyward 34, Pee Dee 29
SCISA 8-Man I
Beaufort Academy (5-5) at Wardlaw Academy (11-0)
Listen, I’m a BA believer, and against anyone else, I probably would pick them to win this week. But the Patriots arguably are the most dominant team in the state at any level. Their closest game all season was a 38-14 win over Clarendon Hall, which beat BA by 18, albeit in August.
With that said, BA running back De’Shaun Epps is the real deal and has rushed for 1,862 yards and 20 touchdowns in just nine games. If the Eagles get him going, they might give Wardlaw its best game so far this season, but it will still be an uphill climb to pull off the upset.
Prediction: Wardlaw Academy 52, Beaufort Academy 28