Before his team entered its fourth season, Blake Raley outlined a pair of goals he hoped the Hurricanes would meet.
At the top of the list: Hardeeville High School's coach wanted to host the first playoff game in school history.
The Hurricanes will do that tonight when Whale Branch visits Hurricane Stadium for the first round of the Class 1-A Division II playoffs. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
The second-seeded Hurricanes have an opportunity to claim the second goal -- winning a playoff game -- if they can repeat a Sept. 17 performance in which they traveled to Whale Branch and came away with a 33-8 victory.
But Raley doesn't expect this one to come quite as easily.
"We have to realize we have a hard job -- beating a team twice in the same year," he said. "... They are going to be licking their chops for another chance to play us. We have to make sure that we play one of our best games of the year and not allow Whale Branch to match our intensity level."
The Warriors feel they have room to improve on the last meeting, which they trailed by only six points entering the fourth quarter. Whale Branch twice turned the ball over on kickoff returns and failed to capitalize in the red zone. Hardeeville found the weak side of Whale Branch's defense and exploited it, Warriors coach Rob D'Amato said.
The loss began a stretch of three straight for the Warriors to open Region 5-A play.
"We were 3-0," D'Amato said. "Hardeeville came in and beat us and sent us in a different direction."
The Hurricanes have won five of seven since that night, but they are coming off a tough 19-12 loss at rival Ridgeland High School in which they turned the ball over five times.
"We understand that we let that game get away," Raley said. "Our biggest task is making sure we grab the attention back to what's at hand."
Whale Branch endured a 53-8 loss at Region 5-A champion Bamberg-Ehrhardt last week. D'Amato said the Red Raiders were clearly the better team, but that his Warriors received good playoff preparation from the defeat.
"There's no better team to play," D'Amato said. "We're looking just to eliminate the mistakes and play on the level we're capable of playing on. And we'll have a shot."
Who: Whale Branch (5-5, 2-5 Region 5-A) at Hardeeville (5-5, 5-2 Region 5-A)
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Hurricane Stadium
Offense: QB Donald Scott, RB Michael Kinlaw, RB Jarrell Knighton, WR Brandon Blackshear, TE Dominique Riley, WR Charlie Morrison-Ford, OL Jamal Kinlaw, OL Christopher Campbell, OL Landon Johnson, OL Xavier Gist, OL Demetrius Garvin.
Defense: DL Landon Johnson, DL Demetrius Garvin , DL Gabriel Washington, DL Philip Harris, LB Amar Wilkins, LB Dominique Riley, LB Brandon Blackshear, LB Terrell Knighton, DB Donald Scott, DB Charlie Morrison-Ford, DB Aaron Grant.
Special teams: P Charlie Morrison-Ford, K Philip Harris.
Offense: QB Stedmon James, RB Joshua Fields, RB Robert Evans, RB Andrew Byam, WR Dee Delaney, WR Frank Washington, LT Howard Allen, LG Donald Middleton, C Max Minter-Ford, RG Matthew McCray, RT Jay Delaney.
Defense: LB Trey Nelson, LB Davon Mack, LB Stedmon James, LB Andrew Byam, DE Tyrik Spicer, DE Jay Delaney, DT Mytae Jackson, DT Pop McKee, FS Frank Washington, CB Charles Giles, CB Dee Delaney.
Special teams: K Charles Jiles, P Stedmon James, LS Trey Nelson, R Joshua Fields, R John Little.
Johnsonville at Ridgeland
A season ago, as basketball practice started in Jasper County, Ridgeland football coach Richard Kirkland could see the transformation in his players, many of whom also played basketball.
Their focus was on the upcoming hoops season and not on Cane Bay, which bounced the Jaguars in the opening round.
"They said they wanted to keep playing, but they way they played in that game, they were ready for it to be over," Kirkland said. "And I haven't seen that this week."
Kirkland said the Jaguars are as focused as they have been all season as they prepare to play host to Johnsonville to open the Class 1-A Division I playoffs. The lackluster practices from the previous week have been left behind, he said.
Just in time.
Ridgeland faces a tough team to open the Class 1-A playoffs. The Flashes have won eight of their past nine games.
Kirkland said the Jaguars have come to grips with their draw since learning who they would play. Ridgeland carries a six-game win streak into Jasper County Stadium.
"Whether we like it or not, that's just the way it is," Kirkland said. "We've just been preparing all week for it. The kids showed up. They self-checked themselves. We've had a good week of practice."
Ridgeland coaches have seen on film that Johnsonville runs a wishbone with two tight ends and has tried to wear opposing teams down with the run. Other than free safety Tyron Mikell, expected out with a pulled groin, the Jaguars will have a healthy defense to try and stop it.
"We've got to come off the bus ready to play," Kirkland said.
Who: Johnsonville (8-2, 5-1 Region 8-A) at Ridgeland (7-3, 6-1 Region 5-A)
When: Today, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Jasper County Stadium
Offense: QB Xavier Capers, RB Tyboshie Mikell, RB Jerry Scott, RB Torray Amlett, WR Hamilton Harris, WR Tyron Mikell, OT Jacque Polite, OT Aaron Watson, OG Larry Jackson, OG Wesley Scott, C Damon Jackson.
Defense: DT Jaquel Howard, DT Larry Jackson, DE Jacquel Polite, DE Wesley Scott, LB Derrick Solomon, LB Damon Gadson, OLB Jerry Scott, OLB Shaquille Grant, CB Immanual White, CB Xavier Capers, FS Darnell Solomon.
Special teams: K Xavier Capers, P Tyron Mikell, R Torray Amlett, R Shaquille Grant.