Ridgeland and Whale Branch each enjoy thoughts of a region title. And both football teams feel they have the chance to advance deep in the playoffs.
Each squad's hopes will be tested tonight, as the Jaguars travel to face the Warriors in an important Region 5-A matchup. Both are trying to recover from setbacks to their region hopes.
Ridgeland (3-2, 1-1 Region 5-A) dropped an overtime contest at Bamberg-Ehrhardt last week, while Whale Branch fell at Allendale-Fairfax.
Ridgeland coach Richard Kirkland said that all the region games are "do-or-die," and that the loss to defending region champ Bamberg-Ehrhardt was a punch in the gut.
"I think the guys, they're hungry and their eyes are still on the future prize," Kirkland said. "And playing Whale Branch is a step in that direction."
The Warriors (4-1, 1-1) are also trying to maintain that focus after losing their first game of the season. Whale Branch was driving deep inside Allendale-Fairfax territory late in the game and down only 6 before turning the ball over.
Coach Rob D'Amato said Whale Branch worked during the week on better handling game situations.
"We're looking to try to brush up on those type of things and really just be focused in those times you need to be focused," D'Amato said. "We try to practice that way, to simulate games situations and try to coach our kids to be as focused as they can be on the task at hand."
The Whale Branch defense is preparing to slow the Jaguars rushing attack. D'Amato said he expected some different looks from the Jaguars, that Kirkland's team will run out of the pistol formation and is throwing a little more than in past seasons.
D'Amato said the Jaguars were probably the team to beat in the region, that they might have fared better against Bamberg-Ehrhardt had running back Torray Amlett not missed time with a foot injury.
"They're still very clever about getting the ball to their athletes and letting their playmakers make plays," D'Amato said. "They'll move guys around a lot. Wherever they need the playmakers, they put them there and trust them to make plays."
Ridgeland is cautious of the Warriors' speed on the edges, Kirkland said. An option team last year, the Warriors have used their skill players differently during their second season. The Jaguars already have seen a similar scheme when they played at Bluffton.
Kirkland said his defense had improved since the Bobcats' blowout.
"If we can counteract their speed, play solid offense without the fumbles, it should be a pretty decent game," he said.
Bluffton (5-0, 0-0 Region 7-AAA) at Lake Marion (2-3, 0-0) 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: The Bobcats begin their defense of the first region title in school history, which they won last year with a 3-1 league record, including a 27-12 against Lake Marion. Bluffton is off to a red-hot start and outscored opponents 320-27 in the non-region season. The team's secondary is in for its biggest test of the season -- the Gators have talent and size on offense, especially at wide receiver -- but it's a challenge coach Cribb says his defensive backs are looking forward to.
Last week: Bluffton was idle; Lake Marion lost 20-14 at Cross
Key to the game: The Bobcats have forced 21 turnovers in five games this season. If the defense continues its opportunistic ways, the Gators will have a difficult time keeping pace with Bluffton's dynamic offense.
Beaufort High (3-2 ) at James Island (3-2), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: The Eagles are coming off their lowest scoring output of the season (13 points) but won after dropping two straight. Beaufort High defeated James Island 36-0 in 2010. The Trojans have lost their past two games entering Friday's matchup.
Last week: Beaufort High defeated West Ashley 13-0; James Island lost to Ashley Ridge 31-14.
Key to the game: If Beaufort High's defense played as it did last week, the Eagles won't need many points to win. But in preparation for region play, coach Mark Clifford would probably like for his offense to click better than it did against the Wildcats. Before last week, the Trojans had not allowed a team more than two touchdowns.
Battery Creek (1-4, 0-0 Region 7-AAA) at Cane Bay (3-2, 0-0 Region 7-AAA ), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: This is the region-opener for both teams. The Cobras have won three straight after dropping their first two games. They won the last meeting between the schools, a 53-0 victory in 2010.
Last week: Battery Creek lost to Wade Hampton 47-6; Cane Bay defeated Woodland 29-7
Key to the game: Battery Creek coach Jim Shuman said the Dolphins need to eliminate their mistakes. His team lost six fumbles during its most recent loss, to Wade Hampton last week. If Battery Creek holds onto the ball, it might can stick around.
Berkeley (1-4, 0-0 Region 7-AAA) at Hilton Head High (2-3, 0-0), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: The Stags rolled over Hilton Head High to the tune of a 55-7 victory a year ago, but tonight's game is sure to provide more of a battle. Berkeley is in a rebuilding year and has scored only 30 points through five games. The Seahawks have bounced back from an 0-3 start to win back-to-back games before last week's bye.
Last week: Berkeley lost 24-21 to Hanahan; Hilton Head High was idle
Key to the game: The Seahawks added a running game to the mix behind a three-touchdown performance from Khalil Lewis two weeks ago. If Lewis can provide an added dimension to an offense that has gained some momentum throwing the ball, look for Hilton Head High to make a game of it tonight.
St. Andrew's (0-5, 0-1 SCISAA Region 2-AA) at Hilton Head Christian (4-1, 1-0 SCISAA Region 2-AA), 7 p.m.
The skinny: The Eagles can clinch a playoff spot with a victory, but after back-to-back impressive wins over Thomas Sumter and Augusta Christian they have ideas about much more than a playoff berth. They've established themselves as the frontrunner in SCISAA Class 2-A, and that status shouldn't be in danger against the winless Lions. St. Andrew's is coming off a bye week after a 43-0 loss at Burke Academy. The Lions have been outscored 180-32.
Last week: Hilton Head Christian won 21-7 vs. Augusta Christian; St. Andrew's was idle
Key to the game: Hilton Head Christian has leaned on a strong defense and a balanced offense that limits mistakes. If the Eagles can continue to follow that formula, they shouldn't have any trouble winning their fifth straight game.
Thomas Heyward (4-0) at Robert E. Lee (0-5), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: The Rebels and their powerful running game hit the road for only the second time this season in search of a 5-0 start heading into four consecutive region games to close the regular season. Junior Ryan Day leads Thomas Heyward's offense with 771 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns through four games.
Last week: Thomas Heyward won 39-20 vs. St. John's Christian; Robert E. Lee lost 37-12 at Williamsburg Academy
Key to the game: The Rebels have a clear advantage against the outmanned Cavaliers, who have only 18 players listed on their roster. As long as Thomas Heyward can complete a few passes to keep the defense from keying on Day and avoid major mistakes, the Rebels should roll to another win.
Bethune-Bowman (1-4, 0-2 Region 5-A) at Hardeeville (0-5, 0-2), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: The Hurricanes were outscored 24-0 in the second half of a loss to Estill last week, dropping them to 0-5 on the season. Quarterbacks Philip Harris and Charlie Morrison-Ford were both injured in the game. Their status for tonight's game is unknown. In a home game tonight, Hardeeville has a chance to pick up its first victory of the season.
Last week: Bethune-Bowman lost 35-0 to Bamberg-Ehrhardt; Hardeeville lost 24-9 at Estill
Key to the game: The Hurricanes need to get off to a good start and limit mistakes while playing with the lead. They had a pair of punts blocked in last week's loss, which flipped the momentum of the game.
Patrick Henry (4-2, 1-0 SCISAA 8-man Region 2) at Beaufort Academy (2-4, 1-0 SCISAA 8-man Region 2), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: The Eagles have their offense clicking after a big game last week, and they'll need to keep it going to keep pace with Patriots, who average 34.7 points per game. Patrick Henry boasts a strong running game led by Grant Youmans (782 yards, 6 TDs). The Eagles have been more balanced on offense. Gibson Achurch has passed for over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns, and Jack Griffith has been a versatile weapon with 1,161 yards from scrimmage.
Last week: Beaufort Academy won 54-30 vs. Andrew Jackson; Patrick Henry won 40-14 vs. Laurens Academy
Key to the game: The Eagles have put up points in bunches when all their key players are healthy, but that hasn't been all that often. If Achurch, Griffith and Billy Dailey can all make it through the game, they should be able to hang with the Patriots.