Last week, Whale Branch Early College High School pushed Allendale-Fairfax further than any previous team this season.
The tight score was a testament to the Warriors' defense, which denied the big play through three quarters before the Tigers broke through late. Whale Branch coach Jerry Hatcher is hoping his team can again take a close game into the fourth quarter, which would mean the Warriors again contained the big play.
But he saw areas of concern during the final 12 minutes. And that was the focus this week as the Warriors (6-3) prepare for a rematch to open the Class 1-A Division I playoffs Friday at Allendale-Fairfax (9-0).
"We didn't contain the outside well, and that was not doing what we should have done," Hatcher said. "Our outside (line)backers are widening instead of trying to contain the edge."
Hatcher was referring to Brandon Jordan's 45-yard touchdown run with 2:22 left that helped the Tigers seal victory. The coach had seen numerous such plays on film in preparation and didn't want the Warriors to fall victim. For three quarters, the defense held, buoyed by preseason expectations of a region championship and knowledge of what the Tigers like to run.
But now comes the chess match. When Hatcher drove to Columbia this past weekend to learn the Warriors' first-round opponent, he and Allendale-Fairfax coach Eddie Ford did not bother swapping film. Each team has plenty of material on the other.
And so Hatcher expects Ford to poke at weaknesses. And Warriors' coaches have tried to find ways to exploit holes on the Tigers' side.
"Sometimes those things get by you on Friday nights," Hatcher said. "You get into the heat of the game, you don't see those things. But having time to sit down and look at the film, we saw a couple things we're going to try to do a little different."
Warriors linebacker Trey Nelson said Whale Branch didn't shift at times during the fourth quarter when it should, that the defense might have been tired and slow to react. But he vowed to have the Warriors' defense ready again Friday.
Whale Branch has lost to Allendale-Fairfax three consecutive seasons, although the Tigers were forced to forfeit the 2011 victory. Nelson played in each of those games.
This is the first time the teams will meet in the playoffs.
The Warriors' defense held the Tigers to their lowest output of the season last week. Allendale-Fairfax averaged 45 points per game through the first eight. Whale Branch held the Tigers to two late touchdowns. But the scores were enough.
"We're a new team this year," Nelson said. "We knew we got beat by Allendale the last two years, we lost again (this year). But Allendale, we sent a message to Allendale that we can play."