Ken Cribb has never been one to abide by the "one game at a time" cliche. It's just not his style.
So last week, when his Bluffton High School football team was enjoying a bye, Cribb and his cadre of assistant coaches piled in cars to go scout the Bobcats' five league opponents in Region 8-AAAA. It started last Thursday, when he drove up to see Colleton County. A day later, he hopped in defensive coordinator John Houpt's gold Toyota to see Beaufort High, Fort Dorchester and Ashley Ridge while his assistants took in Summerville.
Not exactly "one game at a time."
"I look years ahead," Cribb said. "I can go ahead and tell you a projected starting lineup for next year on both sides of the ball. ... I've always done my homework.
"I try to stay abreast of everything going on with who is doing what and how they're playing."
Cribb understands that his Bobcats have a chance to do something special this season by winning the league title in their first season as Class 4-A members. And he plans on making that a reality by learning everything there is to know about his future opponents.
Up first: Beaufort High, which travels to Bobcat Stadium tonight for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
"It's a 4-A school that's in our county and in our region," Cribb said. "This is our measuring stick to start with. We'll see where we are at the end of Friday night. It's going to be a battle."
The Eagles (3-3) expect quarterback Ben Vaigneur healthy after the junior fought a hip injury following a victory over Groves. Sophomore Shuler Black started Beaufort High's loss at Goose Creek in Week 6 and will be ready today if needed, coach Mark Clifford said.
Black is more of a pocket passer and Vaigneur a threat to roll out, but Clifford said his offense doesn't change much with Black under center.
"He did what he had to do and stepped in and did a good job," Clifford said of Black. "They both know the game plan."
Beaufort High linebacker Clint Wright is also healthy. Wright's 39 tackles are third on the team.
Bluffton (6-0) hopes to home in on the Eagles' powerful running game, which is led by senior JaClay Mixon. The Bobcats will do so with a defense that already has seven players with more than 30 tackles, guided by seniors Khalil Mitchell and Kyle Waddell.
"Their running backs are so explosive," Cribb said. "They're hard to see behind that huge line they have. By the team you see them, it's the back of their jersey you're looking at, not the front of (it)."
A victory would give the Bobcats a third consecutive 7-0 start dating back to 2010 when Cribb and Co. were members of Class 3-A.
But the Bobcats are looking to prove that dominance extends beyond their former classification. That will have to start against the veteran Eagles from across the bridge.
"Of course we're real anxious," Cribb said. "Beaufort is probably one of the better-coached teams in the state. They're very big, with a lot of tradition. They've been the king of Beaufort County."
TONIGHT'S OTHER GAMES
Hilton Head Prep (3-3) at Thomas Heyward (7-0), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Thomas Heyward 18, Hilton Head Prep 13 (2011)
The skinny: The Rebels have wrapped up their non-region slate and now look to start off on the right foot in league play against area foe Hilton Head Prep, which has won three of the last four meetings in the series. Thomas Heyward will look to stay focused against the Dolphins with a road game against last season's state champions, the rival Hilton Head Christian Eagles, looming a week from now.
Players to watch: For the Dolphins, RB/LB Teron Daley will need to have a breakout game for Prep to pull off the upset. The junior leads the team with 66 tackles while also recording a team-high 307 rushing yards and three touchdowns. His presence brings added importance with senior LB Austin Baker now out for the season after having surgery on his foot. And the Dolphins defense will have its hands full with Thomas Heyward QB JD Tuten and RB Ryan Day, who have combined for 1,775 yards and 26 touchdowns rushing.
Keys to the game: Prep coach Kevin Wald doesn't mince words when he says his team will have to play a near perfect game to pull off the upset. The Dolphins will need to avoid both turnovers and penalties while also getting a few breaks to go their way. For Thomas Heyward, the Rebels just need to be consistent and they should be able to overpower the Dolphins.
North Charleston (1-4) at Ridgeland-Hardeeville (3-3), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: First meeting.
The skinny: North Charleston picked up its first win of the season last week, beating Garrett Academy Tech in double overtime in a game that was halted Friday and finished Monday because of a skirmish in the stands.
Players to watch: Deo'Vonte Doe leads the Jaguars' rushing attack with 813 yards and eight touchdowns on 109 carries, while Victor Simmons is a force on the defensive line with 4 1/2 sacks.
Keys to the game: Coach Blake Raley says the biggest thing for his Jaguars this week is to not become their own opponent. They must stay focused and eliminate mistakes because North Charleston has speed and size, and despite a poor record, could present problems for Ridgeland-Hardeeville. "We are in the defining part of our season," Raley said. "We've got to keep getting better."
Hilton Head High (4-2) at James Island (3-3), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: James Island 44, Hilton Head High 14 (2009)
The skinny: The Seahawks are looking for their fifth win of the season, which would surpass last year's total. Hilton Head High, which hasn't faced James Island in three years, is 1-0 in region play after holding on last week against Stall. James Island, also 1-0 in Region 8-AAA, has just one common opponent so far this season in Bluffton, which downed the Trojans 50-10 on Sept. 14.
Players to watch: The Trojans like to line it up and run at their opponents, so look for a big game from Seahawks DT Kaylon Ford. The junior, who holds a Division 1 offer from Toledo, has racked up 78 tackles, 16 tackles for loss and four sacks this season. Expect Ford to also play guard for several series on offense after manning the position for four drives a week ago against Stall.
Keys to the game: Stopping the James Island running game will be key for Hilton Head High. The Seahawks have had a propensity this season to give up the big play, but the Trojans offense doesn't normally strike for big gains offensively, coach B.J. Payne said. The Seahawks will also need to continue to rack up yards on the ground behind RB Khalil Lewis, who has already gone over 800 yards this season.
Whale Branch (3-2) at Bethune-Bowman (1-5), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Whale Branch 45, Bethune-Bowman 0 (2011)
The skinny: The Warriors are coming off of their second open week of the season. They defeated Estill 33-20 on Sept. 21 to improve to 1-1 in Region 5-A. Bethune-Bowman has allowed opponents more than 60 points three times this season.
Players to watch: Whale Branch QB Brandon Morton threw for 167 yards and three scores during the victory over Estill. Warriors senior LB Trey Nelson leads the team in tackles through five games.
Keys to the game: The most recent time the Warriors traveled to play a seemingly inferior opponent -- Sept. 14 at Denmark-Olar -- they returned with a loss. In order to move above .500 and improve its playoff standing, Whale Branch will have to remain focused in Orangeburg. Bethune-Bowman might still be stung by the previous season's shutout.
Battery Creek (2-4) at Woodland (5-1), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: First meeting
The skinny: Battery Creek is coming off its first region loss, a 42-21 loss to Bishop England. Woodland has won its past four games, scoring an average of 47.5 points during those victories. The Wolverines, from Dorchester, are 3-0 in Region 6-AA.
Players to watch: Dolphins RB Deandre Johnson, stepping up when Yuneek Crittendon left with an injury, rushed for 157 yards on only 10 carries last week. TE Isaiah Sloan caught three passes for 63 yards and a score. Wolverines RB Patrick Sheppard rushed for 25 touchdowns in 2011 as a sophomore.
Keys to the game: Battery Creek will again face a stiff test from an opposing running back. Bishop England rushed for almost 9 yards per carry in Week 6, led by DeAngelo Stephenson's 112 yards on the ground. Ridgeland-Hardeeville running back Deo'vonte Doe piled up 162 yards the previous week. Without Crittendon, the Dolphins' task will be tougher.
Hilton Head Christian (5-1) at Colleton Prep Academy (4-3), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Hilton Head Christian 35, Colleton Prep 20 (2009)
The skinny: The Eagles will look to run their winning streak to six games before next week's showdown with undefeated rival Thomas Heyward. Hilton Head Christian, which has averaged 35 points per game over its last six contests, takes on a Colleton Prep team that blasted Dorchester Academy 63-20 last week. The Eagles knocked off Dorchester Academy 45-6 in Week 2.
Players to watch: War Hawks FB Heath Fisk would have been the featured player for Colleton Prep, as the brusing runner ran 13 times for 154 yards and four touchdowns last week, but he has a high ankle sprain and won't play, according to The Press and Standard. Nonetheless, stopping the War Hawks' ground game will be a priority, and that will fall to Eagles NG Reed Shindell and fellow rotating interior linemen Robert Campos, Hector Mendoza, Thomas Gloven and Xavier Anderson.
Keys to the game: Eagles coach Tommy Lewis is counting on his front seven to shut down the War Hawks' stable of running backs. On offense, Hilton Head Christian will try to stretch the field vertically with WR Jamario Williams. The Eagles say they aren't looking ahead to next week's clash with Thomas Heyward, but do insist that they prepared for the Rebels at the same time as Colleton Prep. What effect that has on tonight's game remains to be seen.
Beaufort Academy (1-5) at St. John's Christian Academy (6-0), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: St. John's 55, Beaufort Academy 8 (2008)
The skinny: St. John's averagesd 59.7 points per game and topped 70 each of its past two games. The Eagles are allowing 43.3 points per game. Beaufort Academy has been held to 14 points or fewer in each of its five losses. The Cavaliers are in their first season of eight-man football.
Players to watch: St. John's RB Rashae Bey rushed for more than 1,100 yards in 2011 and surpassed 1,200 through Week 5 of this season, according to The (Charleston) Post and Courier. Cavaliers QB Evan Hammond surpassed 1,000 yards passing in five games, with 15 touchdowns.
Key to the game: The challenge for the Eagles remains the same -- play mistake-free football and take advantage of any opportunities. The Cavaliers are a strong team and only a season removed from 11-man ball. Beaufort Academy will try and deliver blows when it can.