Mark Clifford had the line in his back pocket, ready to go last week during his postgame speech to Beaufort High School's football team.
But he failed to remember to deliver it.
"'You've been thinking it, I've been thinking it, we ain't said it. It's here,' " Clifford planned to tell his players. "But that's all we talked about, was Fort D."
For years, Beaufort High's early matchup with Fort Dorchester has been pivotal to the season. The Region 8-AAAA rivals meet at Beaufort High at 7:30 tonight.
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The game carries a little more weight with the Eagles this season, after they suffered a stinging defeat on the road at Fort Dorchester last year. After the loss and still on the Patriots' field, the Eagles vowed to turn the season around. They won their next seven games, including a thriller over Summerville, to claim the region crown.
But the memory of that first loss still hovers a year later.
"It all leads up to Fort D and defending a championship," senior Michael Bedwell said. "It's been in the back of our minds."
Clifford didn't mince words when discussing Fort Dorchester last week after his team's victory over rival Battery Creek, calling the Patriots flashy and cocky.
"We know their demeanor, and sometimes that helps us prepare for them and helps us get psyched up for this game," Clifford said. "They don't act like us and we don't act like them. Only thing that's comparable, probably, is our talent. They've got good players, we've got good players."
The Patriots return quarterback Ethan Long, who threw for 216 yards and two touchdowns during his team's victory last season. Clifford called Fort Dorchester's offensive line among the best the Eagles will face. He said the Eagles will have to pressure Long and force him to move around in the pocket.
On offense, the Eagles expect frequent blitzes. Clifford said the Eagles spent an entire practice preparing for the defensive pressure.
"If they can pick it up, we'll be successful," Clifford said. "They do it so much, I'm sure we're not going to be 100 percent on it. But if it's first down, there's going to be a second down. If there's second down, there's going to be a third down."
The Eagles remain relatively healthy. Linebacker/running back/punt returner JaClay Mixon bruised a quad in practice this week and was expected to be evaluated by trainers Thursday. Linebacker Zach Brown (tailbone) will dress and play, Clifford said. And defensive back Davonte Green, who has been held out with an ankle injury, was expected to be evaluated again Thursday.
TONIGHT'S OTHER GAMES
Hardeeville (0-2) at Hilton Head High (0-3), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: A pair of teams in search of their first win present an intriguing matchup in Hilton Head High's home opener tonight. Tim Singleton will make his return to the Seahawks' sideline after sitting out two games as part of a school-imposed suspension. Hilton Head High won last year's matchup at Hardeeville, 36-12.
Last week: Hardeeville lost 62-0 at Bluffton, Hilton Head High lost 35-20 at Ridgeland
Key to the game: Both teams have struggled offensively in the early part of the year. The Hurricanes haven't scored in two games, and Hilton Head High has scored in only one of its three contests. The team that can gather some offensive momentum and keep the chains moving early will have a huge advantage tonight.
Bluffton (3-0) at Estill (0-2), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: The Bobcats are making their first road trip of the season after a dominating 3-0 start at home in which they have outscored opponents 198-14. Bluffton's passing game has proved unstoppable, and quarterback C.J. Frazier has thrown for 12 touchdowns in three games, including three last week to senior Dimitri Lowry. With 39 points tonight, the Bobcats will be halfway to reaching last year's 14-game total of 473, which set a school record.
Last week: Bluffton defeated Hardeeville 62-0, Estill lost 27-14 at Wade Hampton
Key to the game: If the Bobcats continue to win the turnover battle, they will be awfully tough to upset. The defense has forced 12 turnovers in three games while also giving the offense good starting field position on its drives.
Carolina Forest (2-1) at Battery Creek (1-1), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: The Class AAAA Panthers won the last meeting, 51-12. Carolina Forest running back Harold Atkinson has been offered by Minnesota and ran for 175 yards last week against St. James. Battery Creek has rushed for 582 yards through two games.
Last week: Carolina Forest defeated St. James 49-22, Battery Creek lost 62-6 at rival Beaufort High.
Key to the game: The Dolphins will have to avoid an early onslaught and maintain confidence. Last week, Battery Creek allowed an interception return for a score on its first drive and gave up touchdowns on Beaufort High's first two offensive plays. The Dolphins will look to their running game to help control time of possession.
Wade Hampton (2-0) at Ridgeland (1-1), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: Wade Hampton's two victories were against Ridgeland's Region 5-A rivals Allendale-Fairfax and Estill. The Red Devils won last year's meeting in overtime. Red Devils running back Corinthian Williams is averaging 7 yards per carry through two games.
Last week: Wade Hampton defeated Estill 27-14, Ridgeland won 35-10 at Hilton Head High.
Key to the game: The Jaguars will look to continue to click on offense. They struggled to move the ball during a season-opening loss at Bluffton. But last week, Ridgeland scored 35 en route to its first win of the season.
Hilton Head Prep (2-0) at Thomas Sumter (1-2), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: The Dolphins have been one of the surprises of the young season after losing most of their offensive stars to graduation or transfer in the offseason, but they will be tested on the road this week, taking on the defending SCISAA Class 2-A state champs. Prep's offense has made a major transformation from pass-happy to smashmouth with Teron Daley (212 rushing yards, 3 TDs) and L.J. Orage (178 rushing yards, 2 TDs) leading the way. After opening the season with losses to Orangeburg Prep and Wilson Hall, the Generals bounced back last week, rolling up 275 rushing yards in a rout of Pee Dee Academy. A live video webcast of the game will be available at www.theitem.com.
Last week: Hilton Head Prep won 30-12 vs. St. Andrew's; Thomas Sumter won 48-0 at Pee Dee Academy
Key to the game: The Dolphins early success has been predicated on controlling the ball and the clock with the power running game. That has been Thomas Sumter's philosophy over the years, as well, so the team that can sustain drives and keep its defense off the field probably will come out on top.
Thomas Heyward (1-0, 0-0 SCISAA Region 2-AA) at Northwood Academy (0-2, 0-0), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: The Rebels started the season with an impressive 21-0 home win against Bible Baptist last week, but they'll get their first region test when they travel to Northwood Academy.
Ryan Day had a big night in the opener, rushing for 170 yards and two touchdowns.
The Chargers are just one year removed from playing in the SCISAA Class 2-A state championship game, but they are young with sophomore quarterbacks Isaiah Williams and Camden Amidon.
Last week: Thomas Heyward won 21-0 vs. Bible Baptist; Northwood Academy lost 47-14 at Williamsburg Academy
Key to the game: The Chargers showed a vulnerability against the pass last week, allowing nearly 250 yards through the air. Thomas Heyward is a run-first team, but the Rebels feel they can be more balanced this season, and they'll need to get quarterback J.D. Tuten and the passing game going to take advantage of Northwood Academy's weakness.
Jefferson Davis (1-2) at Beaufort Academy (0-3), 7:30 p.m.
The skinny: The Eagles look for their first win after hanging with W.W. King last week. The offense had its best game of the season, with quarterback Gibson Achurch completing 13 of 14 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns and Jack Griffith scoring three touchdowns (one receiving, two rushing). After a season-opening 76-0 win against Coastal Christian Prep, the Raiders have suffered consecutive blowout losses to Clarendon Hall and Patrick Henry. They've been outscored 130-8 in those games. Jefferson Davis won last year's meeting, 58-20 in Blackville.
Last week: Jefferson Davis lost 60-8 to Patrick Henry; Beaufort Academy lost 48-34 to W.W. King
Key to the game: The Raiders gave up more than 300 rushing yards last week, so if the Eagles can get their running game going to complement the effective passing game led by Achurch and Griffith, they'll have a good shot at their first victory.