HEPHZIBAH --- Despite looking at his team's 1-5 start, Hephzibah coach John Bowen still knew his players' abilities were there.
The question for him was whether the heart was.
Faced with must-win games, the Rebels have responded by posting two consecutive victories against Butler and Cross Creek to put themselves in great position to play for a state playoff appearance.
"They understood -- we stressed we had no room for error," Bowen said. "We've had elimination games these last three weeks."
With a victory against Glenn Hills on Friday, the Rebels would secure a game against the North's No. 2 seed for a spot in the state playoffs.
Though Bowen said his side has yet to play its best possible 48 minutes, Hephzibah has found success after its five losses were against opponents with a combined record of 28-11-1.
It has done so while still dealing with a variety of injuries to running backs.
The list of injured players includes Coda Bryant (knee), leading rusher Bernard Germany (ankle), Levonte Reddick (knee) and Jamar Thornton (knee).
Because of the setbacks, Bowen said the No. 5 and No. 6 running backs have been forced into action. The coach said he even added a few skill players from the JV team to fill in spots.
But the running game has remained strong.
In fact, the ground attack has been more of an emphasis in recent weeks. The changes started after the loss to Thomson, when Bowen and the staff came to the conclusion that they added too many plays too quickly.
So they retooled the playbook and have since been adding more plays. Along with that, the Rebels have finally found the offensive balance Bowen wanted.
Against Butler, Germany rushed for more than 100 yards as Hephzibah registered 59 more yards on the ground than through the air.
The offense struggled some the following week against Cross Creek, but it did post more rushing yards (167) than passing yards (153) once again.
Sophomore Marcus Smith -- a back who Bowen said has exceeded all expectations -- has helped carry the load because of all the injuries. His biggest contribution on the field came against Cross Creek, as he ranked second on the team with 64 rushing yards.
"I've kept my head up and watched the other running backs," Smith said. "I also got to give credit to our offensive line."
Along with Smith adding depth, Bowen hopes to get Everett Edwards and Reddick back to rushing duties against the Spartans this Friday.
With a win against Glenn Hills for the third year in a row, Hephzibah would then need only one more victory to make its third consecutive state playoff appearance.
"We know what we got to do for us seniors," receiver Eric Ortiz said. "We got to win."