Rock Hill football coach Bubba Pittman just shook his head sheepishly when asked about the “Bearcat Jesus” Twitter account.
In his first year as a head coach, Pittman may be the only prep football coach in South Carolina with a parody Twitter account, where an unknown person is tweeting from his perspective. The tweets have all been highly complimentary, perhaps a tad unrealistic in some cases, but are indicative of the expectations yoked around Pittman’s neck. The pressure has only ramped up since Rock Hill battered Blythewood 40-6 in last Friday’s season opener.
“It was a great win, but that was Game One, we didn’t win anything,” said Pittman. “It was just one game.”
Those rising hopes will quickly be put to the test, though, when the Bearcats host rival South Pointe at District Three Stadium Friday at 7:30 p.m. It’s only Week One, but it already feels like more anticipation surrounds this Rock Hill-South Pointe tilt than any in recent years.
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Pittman said the Rock Hill coaching staff has been incessantly preaching to its players to remain grounded. But if any team should bring Rock Hill back to reality, it’s the Stallions. South Pointe’s Strait Herron hasn’t lost to the Bearcats as a head coach, his program beating Rock Hill in four straight since 2010.
“We can’t get wrapped up in whether it’s South Pointe, Blythewood, or who it is,” Pittman said. “It’s our opponent, and we’ve got to go play the best we can play.”
Still, a couple of plays in last Friday’s win embodied what Pittman and Bearcats fans want from the Rock Hill program. John McCullough’s 30-yard touchdown just before halftime pushed the Bearcats’ lead out to 24-0, but it was the manner in which he scored that had the sideline bouncing up and down. McCullough reeled in Cameron McKinney’s throw near the 10-yard line before hauling a pair of Bengal tacklers into the end zone.
“It was good that he was fighting for the end zone,” said Pittman. “He wouldn’t go down. I was impressed with it.”
Any good program creates its own luck, and Rock Hill did that too on Friday. Brandon Croutch’s 48-yard catch and run for a touchdown was the kind of break that’s been avoiding the Bearcats in recent seasons. McKinney’s pass was batted up in the air, but Croutch was perfectly positioned to snatch the loose ball and take off toward the end zone. Junior running back Tim Sherer threw a devastating block that turned a big gain into six points and even more momentum.
“It was an all-around hustle play and everybody was fighting for the end zone, and those kinds of plays happen when you’re doing that,” said Pittman.
Those two plays were part of a snowball of momentum that the Bearcats used to avalanche the Bengals. Preventing one big play from turning into two or three will be crucial for South Pointe on Friday.
“The main thing for us is just to be focused,” Herron said as the sun set on Wednesday’s practice. “And understand that hopefully there’s gonna be good things that happen, but in a ball game, something’s gonna go wrong. So we’ve got to be able to handle that adversity, don’t let it get to us, and just play South Pointe football.”
Pittman was encouraged that his team didn’t turn the ball over last week. Repeating that feat will be even more important Friday against a South Pointe team that forced 39 turnovers and scored over 70 non-offensive points last fall. Bryson Cooper’s 35-yard fumble return for a touchdown last week in the 40-0 win over New Covenant marked the Stallions’ first non-offensive points of this season.
It will be interesting to see who is positioned where for South Pointe. The Stallions’ best junior and senior play-makers lined up all over the place on both sides of the ball during Wednesday’s practice.
“We’ve got so many skilled athletes that this team is still kind of on the make,” said Herron. “We’re still trying to figure out where people are gonna best help us. It also brings a challenge because you’ve got to keep them happy at the same time. But I’m sure the effort will be there.”
Little doubt it will, especially for a rivalry game that at the moment has some of its luster restored. Herron hopes his bunch show the hunger to maintain the status quo against the fired-up Bearcats.
Looking at the Blythewood film, Herron saw a Rock Hill team “playing inspired football right now. That’s what you want out of players, is you just want them to play hard and give you everything they’ve got. That’s gonna be the biggest challenge for us.”
While relieved to get the first win out of the way quickly, Pittman’s challenges are still numerous: maintaining an even keel in a team not used to a lot of recent success; game-planning for a difficult rivalry game the second week of the season; and dealing with a parody Twitter account that, while probably well-intentioned, is only cranking up the pressure.
“We’re trying to figure out how to report that to Twitter, or whatever,” said Pittman, kicked back in his desk chair on Tuesday. “Everyone needs to know that is not me; I am not Bearcat Jesus.”