Although it was against top-flight competition, the prospect of having half-a-hundred hung on them in consecutive games didn’t sit well with the Bluffton defense.
The Bobcats were eager for a positive outcome, and they wanted to set the tone early in Friday’s Region 7-4A opener against visiting Beaufort High.
“We had to get that first three-and-out,” Bluffton junior Ely’Jiah Mitchell said. “Coach was telling us all week, 16 seconds and they’re off the field. That’s what we had to do.”
The defense delivered on that first series — and all night — and the Bobcats finally got their deep passing game synched up en route to a 28-14 win over the Eagles.
After giving up 56 and 52 points in the past two games, Bluffton’s defense was dominant from the outset Friday, holding the Eagles under 150 total yards, most of which came in the fourth quarter. Beaufort never got its passing game going — and Bluffton’s Kylan Simmons and Jaylon Thompson each hoisted the team’s “turnover belt” after second-half interceptions — while the Bobcats were able to strike for big plays through the air early and often.
On Bluffton’s first series, Lee Kirkland hit Rakim White on a quick slant and White bounced off two tacklers and went 38 yards for a score. Kirkland then connected on two deep balls to Shamar Sandgren for 65- and 55-yard TD passes to give the Bobcats a 21-0 halftime lead.
“On film, their defense was playing everything deep, but we haven’t really been successful on the deep balls so far this year, so I guess they were just bringing them up,” Kirkland said. “We just went right past them.”
Kirkland and Sandgren hooked up once more for a 17-yard TD to make it 28-0 with 11:54 left in the game. Kirkland finished with 278 passing yards and four TDs, and Sandgren had five catches for 153 yards and three scores.
James Dagin took the ensuing kickoff the distance to get Beaufort on the board, and he added a 33-yard TD run to pull the Eagles within 28-14 with four minutes left.
The Eagles recovered an onside kick to give them a chance to further close the gap, but the Bobcats made a fourth-down stop and held on.
“We had our moments, but we just couldn’t close it in,” Beaufort coach Devonte Holloman said. “When you get down 21-0, it’s hard to come back.”
The Eagles (3-4, 0-1) face another tough test next week with a trip to undefeated May River for a non-region matchup before hosting Hilton Head High and Colleton County to close out the region schedule.
The Bobcats get a week off to prepare for a trip to Colleton County on Oct. 19, and if they get the job done in Walterboro, they’ll be playing for a region championship in the Bridge Bowl on Oct. 26 against Hilton Head High.
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