For a second consecutive week, the result was not what Rob D'Amato wanted from his Whale Branch High School football team.
The Warriors fell 34-22 at home Friday to Region 5-A foe Allendale-Fairfax. But there were signs the Warriors are headed the correct direction. And D'Amato, the Warriors head coach, made sure the point was made following the loss.
"We grew up as a football team tonight," he told his players. "I saw it happen."
Whale Branch (3-2, 0-2 Region 5-A) dropped a region contest for a second consecutive week. But unlike the week before against Hardeeville, the first-year Warriors refused to fold late in the game.
Trailing by three touchdowns entering the final quarter, the Warriors pulled within six on quarterback Stedmon James' third touchdown run of the game. But in the end, as was the case against the Hurricanes, the Warriors were overpowered by the running game.
Allendale-Fairfax drained the clock and added an insurance score with less than a minute remaining.
The Tigers were not happy after their win. Allendale-Fairfax coaches talked to their players on the field long after Whale Branch players headed to the locker room. They were upset with the defense's perceived lack of effort during the second half and with the Tigers' penalties -- 14 for 130 yards.
"We thought we had them," Tigers running back Jamal Riley said. "We let them come back. We gave those boys life."
In the end, the Warriors ceded to the more physical team. D'Amato announced there would be a voluntary weight-lifting session today at the school. He has talked often about the Warriors' need to play more physical.
James, the Whale Branch quarterback and punter, also played some outside linebacker Friday in an attempt to bolster the Whale Branch defense.
"There's no such thing as a moral victory," D'Amato said. "And we're not looking for that. We saw them grow up, but we still saw that we were physically outmatched in some aspects."
Other aspects just didn't go the Warriors' way. Their onside kick to start the second half, trailing 22-6, was ruled a dual possession and the ball awarded to the Tigers.
A Whale Branch touchdown just before halftime, a pass from James to Josh Fields, was called back due to an ineligible receiver downfield, with 15 yards tacked on for the Warriors celebrating a score that didn't count.
Still, Whale Branch almost overcame the setbacks.
"Their kids fought hard," Tigers coach Eddie Ford said. "They played us a really good game, they did. But I thought we would play better than we did, but we didn't."
Some of Ford's frustration was directed at a number of James' bruising runs during the second half, when multiple Tigers weren't able to bring him down. James dragged defenders during a first-down run to begin the Warriors' final scoring drive and shook them off on each of his three touchdown runs.
ALLENDALE-FAIRFAX 34, WHALE BRANCH 22
W-- Stedmon James 41 run (run failed) 8:11
A-- Solomon McCormick 1 run (Jamal Riley rush) 4:41
A-- McCormick 1 run (Riley run) 4:55
A-- Johnnie Simmons 30 pass from McCormick (run failed) 4:32
A-- Riley 5 run (run failed) 6:13
W-- James 4 run (Marquise Moultrie pass from Josh Fields) 9:24
W-- James 3 run (Dee Delaney pass from Fields) 5:39
A-- Jahnari Devoe 10 run (run failed) :55