Everyone associated with the Beaufort High School football program felt something was different about this team.
But they couldn't have predicted its level of success.
The Eagles had missed the playoffs for consecutive seasons, a drought by the standard set the previous several years. The fix started with coaches asking players to run to the ball, run to their different stations in practice -- to go harder at everything they did.
Players held each other accountable. The sharper focus brought results.
The reward was the Eagles walking off their field Friday after defeating Colleton County 35-12 to end the regular season, knowing their season would continue.
"We had to go back to learning how to win," Beaufort High coach Mark Clifford said.
Beaufort High (8-3, 3-2 Region 8-AAAA) earned the region's No. 2 seed and a spot in the Class 4-A Division II playoffs. The Eagles find out Saturday morning who they draw in the first round.
Eric Blakely ran for four touchdowns and Beaufort High overcame early turnovers to keep the Cougars (2-9, 0-5) winless in Region 8.
Colleton County ran early with the Eagles respecting the pass but spread the field and asked Ramon Hall to throw after Beaufort High's lead grew.
Hall attempted 21 passes during the second half after completing 2 of 8 passes the first two quarters.
"Beaufort has shown steady improvement since last time we played them," Colleton County coach Chris Collins said. "They've come a long way. ... And that's what we need to try to do is to match their intensity and dedication to getting better."
The Cougars snapped a 36-game losing streak in September by defeating Wando and added another win at Cane Bay. Clifford told the Eagles they would be beaten if not prepared.
But other than two red zone turnovers during the first half, Beaufort High showed little sign of let down.
On senior night, linebacker T.J. Watts returned an interception 57 yards to set up Blakely's final touchdown. Senior defensive back A.J. Smalls snagged another interception and junior Jason Senn picked off his second pass in as many games.
Beaufort High defensive coordinator Andy Smyth was worried about the Cougars' ability to throw the ball, but his group held Hall without a touchdown pass and a 38 percent completion percentage.
"We have 100 percent heart," Watts said. "We're a tight, close family. I think that stands out from years past."
The victory helped the Eagles achieve the second of three goals it set for the season: win eight games, win three consecutive games and win region.
The Eagles accomplished the win streak with a 5-0 start. And while Summerville ran away with the Region 8 title, few would have pegged Beaufort High for runner-up before the season, Clifford said.
As the coach left the stadium, he grumbled that his team should have finished the regular season 10-1 -- victories at Ashley Ridge and Summerville within reach, he thought.
"It's amazing I'm saying that right now," he said.
Beaufort High 35, Colleton County 12
Colleton County 0 6 0 6 -- 12
Beaufort High 14 7 7 7 -- 35
B -- Eric Blakely 57 run (Brady Cormier kick) 11:05
B -- Blakely 2 run (Cormier kick) 8:12
CC --Ramon Hall 5 run (kick failed) 4:24
B -- Blakely 1 run (Cormier kick) 1:08
B -- Jeffrey Tookes 18 run (Cormier kick) 7:09
B -- Eric Blakely 4 run (Cormier kick) 11:56
CC --Ramon Hall 5 run (pass failed) 1:57
First Downs 22 15
Rushes-Yards 38-180 46-325
Comp-Att-Int 11-29-3 2-4-1
Passing Yards 221 15
Punts-Avg 3-35.7 4-36
Fumbles-Lost 1-1 2-0
Penalties-Yards 4-55 6-38
Third-Down Conv 6-14 2-9
Fourth-Down Conv 3-5 2-2
PASSING: Colleton County -- Ramon Hall 11-29-3-221; Beaufort High -- Ben Vaigneur 2-4-1-15.
RUSHING: Colleton County -- Nickel Simmons 16-87, Hall 14-80, Rajuan Ferguson 4-21, Tyler Williams 1- (-4), Latrell Naivez 3- (-4); Beaufort High -- Eric Blakely 17-146, Jeffrey Tookes 16-116, Vaigneur 7-37, William Spann 3-15, Colby Chalmers 2-8, Omar Cummings 1-3.
RECEIVING: Colleton County -- Naivez 5-129, Bruce Holmes 14-73, Jamad Sanders 2-19; Beaufort High -- Da'Quan Cason 1-9, Stephen Baggett 1-6.