That's what Sandy Creek remained as it moved to 6-0 after downing visiting Shaw 51-26 Friday night.
The game was much closer than the final score would indicate.
"I didn't necessarily think we played great, but we played hard," Sandy Creek coach Chip Walker said about his team's performance. "And good effort is a big thing in a game like this."
The Patriots started the game just as lethal on offense as they've ever been as they built a seemingly comfortable 28-6 lead midway through the second quarter.
Cole Garvin was a big part of that as he passed for over 175 yards and two scores in the first half.
But Shaw responded with a scoring drive engineered by quarterback Chandler Whittlesey. The drive ended with Whittlesey hooking up with LaVonte Williams for a 6-yard score. After the failed two-point conversion, the score was 28-12 with 16 seconds left -- just enough time for the Patriots to set up a 55-yard field goal try by Mitchell McMillin, which he converted to give Sandy Creek a commanding 31-12 lead at halftime.
Shaw began the second half as it ended the second half: Whittlesey orchestrated another scoring drive that concluded with a 39-yard TD pass to Williams, who made a diving grab in traffic to cut the Patriot lead to 31-18 with 9:58 left in the third. From there, the Raiders' defense provided a spark as it forced the Patriot offense into back-to-back punting situations. Shaw's offense capitalized on the advantage when Whittlesey found Williams for a third time in the end zone from 5 yards out. The touchdown made the score 31-26 with 11:55 remaining in the game after a successful two-point conversion pass to Joe Purther.
"I've said since August that he is the best quarterback in AAAA football," Shaw coach Kyle Adkins said of Whittlesey, who finished with over 200 yards passing, over 100 yards rushing and four total TDs (one rushing).
With the game on the brink, Sandy Creek turned to the running game -- and it paid dividends. Eric Swinney ripped off a 39-yard scoring run with 9:03 left to make the score 37-26 following the missed extra point. Following a turnover on downs by Shaw, Swinney broke loose for a 12-yard score that all but ended any comeback hopes for the Raiders. Khari Lain's interception return for a score with 2:23 left in the contest was the final blow.
"We're building a program here," said Adkins, whose team fell to 2-4 overall. "We take it one game at a time, one practice at a time and one drill at a time. And what we're trying to teach these kids is, offensively, we are never out of a game, and they saw that tonight."
"One of these nights it's all going to click, and when it does, its going to get ugly," Adkins said.