A steep hill on the backside of Midland Valley's practice field served as the location for a short, impromptu speech by coach Rich Knight Tuesday afternoon.
His players, who had been sprinting up the hill, circling the goal post, then jogging downhill to one of two tractor tires, stood side-by-side catching their breath as they listened.
Knight praised his team's fourth-quarter effort from last week when the Mustangs ran the clock out on region rival Airport to claim a key Region 5-AAA victory.
But Knight's praise came with a warning.
"We have to finish the job," he said.
Though the win made a statement, it came in the first game of the region schedule. Only two of the six teams in the region own winning records, including Aiport, which means, barring an upset, only undefeated A.C. Flora stands in the way of a second region title in three years for the Mustangs.
But that potential upset is what Knight was trying to avoid when he spoke to his players.
"We're not a good enough team to just get off the bus and win," he said. "We have to go and play and not make any mistakes the rest of the way."
The Mustangs, at winless Dreher this week, could get some help from Airport. The Eagles play at A.C. Flora on Thursday night, which means Midland Valley could enter its game as the only team undefeated in region play.
INJURED : Midland Valley tailback Trey Walker suffered an ankle sprain Tuesday and sat out of practice. Knight said he didn't know if the junior starter will miss any playing time.
SELF-PRESERVATION : North Augusta quarterback Loranzo Hammonds spent last Friday's loss to nationally-ranked Northwestern running from the Trojans' three down linemen. The senior quarterback played a bit more cautious in his second game back from a shoulder injury. He avoided contact at times, opting to slide feet first when in the past he would have chosen to lower his shoulder to get an extra yard or two.
Hammonds said the time he missed with the shoulder problems, the first significant injury of his high school career, made him think a little bit.
"Self-preservation is the key," he said. "Coach (Dan Pippin ) always says that, and now I know."
LOSS LEADERS : Region play begins this week for North Augusta, Aiken and South Aiken and all three teams will be coming off losses. The loss was the first for North Augusta, Aiken dropped its third consecutive game last week to fall to 3-3, and South Aiken remained winless on the season.
The Thoroughbreds will face Orangeburg-Wilkinson, which leads the region with an average of 47 points scored per game and 5-1 record. Aiken will play host to White Knoll (5-1), while North Augusta will travel to Lexington (4-2).