Even though many of them are gone, the players from last year's Hilton Head Christian Academy football team -- the one that lost to Thomas Sumter Academy in the SCISAA Class 2-A championship game -- have found ways to make sure this year's Eagles understand the importance of tonight's game.
From text messages to phone calls to Facebook posts, the former Eagles have made it known that they'll be paying close attention when the defending state champion Generals visit the Eagles for a rematch at 7 tonight.
"There's definitely some feeling brought forward from that game," Eagles coach Tommy Lewis said. "At the same time, this is a completely new team and a new season. I think the main thing is this is a big game on our schedule for this season, because this is arguably the best team from the other region."
The past two weeks, the Generals (2-2) have looked like a team that could repeat as state champions. After losing their first two games to SCISAA Class 3-A opponents, they've outscored their last two foes 89-0, including a 41-0 win against Hilton Head Prep last week.
Several of the key players from last year's team are gone, but Thomas Sumter hasn't missed much on offense, averaging more than 350 yards per game with junior quarterback Shane Bishop and senior running back Charles Metcalfe leading the way.
"They've done a nice job of just reloading, rather than rebuilding," Lewis said.
That's what the Eagles have been able to do in recent years. They've played in the title game in four of the past five years, winning twice. Whether they have enough to get there again this year is yet to be seen -- they've played only two games, thanks to a forfeit by First Baptist last week -- but they'll have a better idea after tonight.
"This will certainly be a good indicator of where we are, a measuring stick, on both sides of the ball, but particularly on offense," Lewis said.
TONIGHT'S OTHER GAMES
Beaufort High (2-1) at Stratford (3-0), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: Beaufort High is averaging 53.7 points per game after three games. The Eagles won the last meeting, a 39-12 home victory in 2010. Knights running back Devin Washington rushed for 114 yards and two scores last week, according to The Post and Courier. The game begins a stretch of four non-region opponents for the Eagles, with all coming from Region 7.
Last week: Beaufort High lost to Fort Dorchester 49-45, Stratford won 31-24 at Ashley Ridge
Key to the game: The road game will test whether Beaufort High can come back strong following a deflating home loss to open the Region 8-AAAA schedule. Big plays can help return momentum to a positive direction. The Eagles scored on two interception returns last week.
Wade Hampton at Bluffton (4-0), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: The Bobcats have breezed to a 4-0 start and can complete an undefeated non-region season with a win tonight. Bluffton is looking to start 5-0 for the second consecutive season. The Bobcats and Wade Hampton have played one common opponent this year -- Bluffton defeated Ridgeland 60-14, and Wade Hampton lost a one-point game to the Jaguars a week ago. Wade Hampton, however, gave the Bobcats all they could handle a year ago, building an 18-0 lead before Bluffton came back to win 30-18.
Last week: Wade Hampton lost 20-19 at Ridgeland, Bluffton def. Estill 67-6
Key to the game: The Bobcats have scored at least 60 points in each of their first four contests. Provided they don't make mistakes -- specifically, turn the ball over -- their athleticism should prove too much for Wade Hampton to handle.
Whale Branch (3-0, 0-0 Region 5-A) at Hardeeville (0-3, 0-0 Region 5-A), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: The game is the region opener for both teams, which enter with the same records they did in 2010, when Hardeeville rolled on the road and sparked a three-game win streak. The Warriors season slid the opposite direction. Whale Branch averages 42 points per game. Hardeeville finished 0-3 in non-region play for the second straight season, but the Hurricanes bounced back to finish 5-2 in Region 5-A last year.
Last week: Whale Branch did not play, Hardeeville lost 28-12 at Hilton Head High
Key to the game: Whale Branch might be piling up points, but it will need to be physical on defense. Hardeeville delivered a wake-up call last season, hitting hard during a 28-point victory. The trend continued for Whale Branch during much of the region schedule. The Hurricanes offense has a new-look with Philip Harris under center and needs to build off way it played in the second half of Friday's loss at Hilton Head High.
Ridgeland (2-1, 0-0 Region 5-A) at Bamberg-Ehrhardt (2-1, 0-0 Region 5-A), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: It's no secret the Jaguars have had this game circled for a while. The Red Raiders sneaked out of Ridgeland with a victory during the 2010 regular season and then mauled the Jaguars during the playoffs en route to the Class A title game. The road to a region title travels through Bamberg, and Ridgeland coach Richard Kirkland said the Jaguars are tired of finishing second.
Last week: Ridgeland defeated Wade Hampton 20-19, Bamberg-Ehrhardt lost 24-14 to Barnwell
Key to the game: The Jaguars will have to stay in the game on the road. After winning seven consecutive games to end the 2010 regular season and open the Class A playoffs, the Red Raiders ran Ridgeland off their field, winning 49-6. Kirkland said his team laid down.
North Charleston (0-3) at Hilton Head High (1-3), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: The Seahawks picked up their first win of the year last Friday night after a rocky start to the season. They will look to improve to 2-0 at home against a winless North Charleston team that has struggled in its first three games. The Cougars have been outscored 104-51 over three losses. Hilton Head High won last year's matchup against the Cougars, 35-25.
Last week: North Charleston lost 48-12 to Baptist Hill, Hilton Head High def. Hardeeville 28-12
Key to the game: The Seahawks passing game worked out the kinks in last week's win against Hardeeville. Michael Julian threw four touchdown passes, including two to Robbie Iulo. If they can have similar success through the air tonight, look for the Seahawks to start a winning streak.
Battery Creek (1-2) at Edisto (1-3), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: The Dolphins have only managed six points since opening the season with a victory over Estill. Battery Creek let last year's home meeting with Edisto slip away during a 32-26 loss. Edisto has lost three consecutive games after opening the season with victory.
Last week: Battery Creek lost 48-0 at home to Carolina Forest; Edisto lost 33-20 to Cane Bay
Key to the game: Battery Creek knows it can't make many mistakes and expect to win. Dolphins coach Jim Shuman said the miscues to this point are fixable, that the Dolphins are still adjusting to the first-year coach's system. The team will have to manufacture a complete game to earn its second victory of the season.
Hilton Head Prep (2-1) at Aynor (2-2), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: A week after being shut out and having their newfound ground game shut down in a blowout loss at Thomas Sumter, the Dolphins hit the road again to face Class 2-A public school Aynor. The Yellowjackets run the ball more than 90 percent of the time (226 rush plays, 17 pass plays) but they run it well, averaging nearly 300 rushing yards per game. Devante Kinlaw leads the way with 371 yards and three touchdowns, and converted quarterback Hunter Windham is close behind with 269 yards and three scores. The Dolphins again will be without lineman Robert Clark and RB/LB Scott D'Amico. Coach Kevin Orford said D'Amico is likely to sit out two more games with a bone bruise on his foot, then use Prep's off week to be ready for the remainder of region play.
Last week: Hilton Head Prep lost 41-0 at Thomas Sumter; Aynor lost 28-8 at Johnsonville
Key to the game: The Dolphins want to be aggressive on defense, stack the box and shut down the running game. If they can't slow down the ground game, Prep's litany of two-way players will wear down quickly, making for a long night.
Colleton Prep (2-1) at Thomas Heyward (2-0), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: The undefeated Rebels will face their toughest test yet against the Warhawks and their powerful running game. Thomas Heyward's defense has been dominant in blowout wins against Bible Baptist and Northwood Academy, but it will have its hands full with Colleton Prep's wishbone attack led by bruising fullback Heath Fisk and tailbacks Tanner Cope, Cody Cope and Scott Cope. The Rebels boast an impressive running game of their own led by junior Ryan Day, who has rushed for 411 yards and four touchdowns through two games.
Last week: Thomas Heyward won 41-10 at Northwood Academy; Colleton Prep won 20-8 at Dorchester Academy
Key to the game: The Rebels have to swarm to the ball and gang tackle, preventing the Warhawks from gaining yards after contact. If they let Colleton Prep's bruising runners, especially Fisk, get loose in the secondary, they'll be in for a long night.
Beaufort Academy (1-3) at Greenwood Christian (2-2), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: After going winless a year ago, Greenwood Christian has split its first four games this season, but the Eagles would like to revisit last season, when they hung a 48-8 defeat on the Hawks. The Hawks' offense has been much improved -- they average more than 200 rushing yards per game -- but Beaufort Academy hasn't had much trouble putting up points the past two weeks. The Eagles have averaged 45 points the past two games.
Last week: Beaufort Academy won 56-0 vs. Jefferson Davis; Greenwood Christian won 56-30 at Faith Christian
Key to the game: Offensive line play has been the biggest bellwether for the Eagles' offensive success. If the big guys up front can continue to create space for Billy Dailey and Jack Griffith and give quarterback Gibson Achurch time to find his receivers, the Eagles should put up big numbers again.