Maybe the late touchdown did it -- seven more surprise points to salt a wound.
Or maybe when the opposing fans poured onto Eagle Field at Beaufort High School to embrace their team. Beaufort High coach Mark Clifford's postgame words could have done the trick. He told his players they didn't deserve to go out this way, that they had worked too hard.
Whichever the moment, the finality eventually set in Friday for the Eagles, who bowed out of the Class 4-A Division II playoffs after a 33-14 loss to Easley in the opening round.
"This is my last game," senior offensive lineman Cody Beals said. "It's over now."
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Beaufort High began the night on a quest to buck a recent trend of first-round losses and to schedule a rematch with Goose Creek in the second round. But Easley's steady play proved too much.
The Green Wave forced seven turnovers -- four fumbles and three interceptions -- to keep the Eagles out of sync on the offensive side. And Easley's double wing offense pounded out the clock and wore down Beaufort High's defense, which had been solid against the run during the regular season.
"Throughout the season, at the end of the game, we've been able to make teams tired and finally break through in the end," said Easley quarterback Zach Lappin.
The Eagles led 14-7 during the first half before turnovers got them. After going up by the touchdown and recovering a fumble on the ensuing drive, the Eagles fumbled it right back. The Eagles forced a punt and fumbled the ball away during the return.
On the first drive of the second half, Easley defensive back Troy McGowens returned a Beaufort High fumble 56 yards for a score.
The Green Wave took the lead on a field goal to open the fourth quarter. Beaufort High's comeback attempt ended with turnovers on each of its four possessions during the final quarter.
"We just made too many mistakes to win a football game," Clifford said. "It's hard to realize how that happens this late in the season, mistakes like that. But I feel bad for them. They had a good season, but they deserved a great season."
The Eagles talked of a strong finish after the previous two seasons ended in late slides. And they delivered with a Region 8-AAAA title. But a loss to Goose Creek to end the regular season dampened the mood before postseason play. Clifford said he thought his team was over the loss, that it might be primed to earn another shot at the Gators next week.
But Easley was ready and, after a 250-mile bus ride, played nearly mistake-free football. Easley turned the ball over once, committed one penalty and was stopped once on fourth down. That was it.
Green Wave running back Trevin Franklin led Easley with 19 carries for 161 yards. His offensive line pushed the pile forward when it needed the extra real estate.
"They wore on us a little bit," Eagles defensive lineman Dalvin Broussard said. "But we kept fighting back. That's all we could do was keep fighting back."