AIKEN -- Aiken High senior defensive lineman Eric Stroman knows full well the Hornets missed a golden opportunity to run the table in one of the toughest regions in the state a season ago.
The Hornets finished 6-1 in capturing the region title last year, falling shy of an undefeated mark by one poor half of football.
Aiken (4-0) again has a legitimate chance to go unbeaten in Region 3-AAAA this season. That road begins tonight when the Hornets play host to Lexington (3-1) in the region opener.
Lexington handed Aiken its lone region loss last season. The Hornets led Lexington 14-0 at the half, stuffing the Wildcats' touted option attack. But in the second half, Lexington took over, outscoring Aiken 31-3 in posting a 31-17 victory.
Lexington tailback Demetrius Summers was held to negative rushing yards on four carries in the first half, but ran for 191 in the final two quarters on eight attempts. He ran for two scores, caught one and passed for another, helping send the Hornets home dazed.
"We learned that you have to play four quarters of football, not two," Stroman said. "Oh yeah, we remember that game. We fed off of it last year, and of course it's carried onto this season. It gives us energy. We know if we play our kind of football for 48 minutes, we're hard to beat."
Aiken went on to handle the remainder of its region schedule with ease and ran off nine straight wins before losing to Greenwood in the Class AAAA Division II state championship.
Coach Carey Johnson's squad has been loaded with talent the past three seasons, but this year's squad by far is the most experienced.
After pummeling Richland Northeast 30-7 in the season opener, Aiken upended south Georgia power Colquitt County 6-0, handing the Packers their first shutout since 1991.
Aiken has outscored its opponents 105-20 in four games. Stroman anchors the line, senior Aaron Epps leads the linebacking corps, while senior Brian Staley heads a talented secondary.
Aiken's starters have played only one full game. Against Richland Northeast, Midland Valley and Laurens, most of the first stringers were resting by the end of the third quarter. Staley sat out last week nursing an injury, as did defensive tackle Brian Bush. Both will play tonight.
Undefeated start aside, Johnson sees room for improvement.
"Look at the past Friday," he said of their 28-7 win over Laurens. Aiken led 21-0 at the half, but had four turnovers in the second half. The Raiders were the first team to surpass 100 yards of total offense against the Hornets this season.
"We had a terrible second half. We didn't hit anybody in that game. I'm hoping these seniors will continue to play hard. That's something we've been talking about. We have to play the entire football game," Johnson said.
The Hornets have led the Wildcats at halftime each of the past two seasons, only to fail to hold the lead down the stretch.
After suffering a 38-35 overtime loss to Dorman to open the season, Lexington has rattled off three straight victories. Last week, Lexington pummeled Hillcrest 45-6.
"You could say they are a better second half team," Johnson said. "They've got more numbers than us and more depth, but that's just an excuse to use. We can't play on that. We have some high goals set for this team and tonight is the start. We've got to get after it from start to finish."