Northwestern football coach Jimmy Wallace rolled his eyes toward the sky Wednesday afternoon and made a wish out loud.
"I sure hope it doesn't rain on Friday,'' he said. "The last time we went to Goose Creek it was like playing in a swamp. Rained the entire game. It was like playing in a hurricane.''
Wallace and his Trojans are going back tonight - their first trip since opening the 2009 season with a 14-0 loss to the Gators. It was pouring, and Northwestern never got its vaunted passing game off the line.
The game was scoreless after three quarters, but the Gators ran straight at the Trojans in the final quarter for their two-touchdown margin.
It was a tough loss, as Wallace described it, but not totally unexpected. Northwestern had graduated 31 seniors from the previous year's team, and although hot-throwing quarterback Justin Worley returned for his junior season, he was the only offensive starter back.
The Trojans started 1-5, but recovered and made it to the Class AAAA Division II state championship game for the second straight year.
A third consecutive trip is the goal tonight, but this time the Gators stand in the way instead of being frontloaded on the schedule.
Regardless what the weather has in store when the game kicks off at 7:30 p.m., the Trojans are going to pass. It's what they do best, and they are not going to change the offense after getting this far.
If it does rain, that will suit Goose Creek coach Chuck Reedy and his team well. As much as the Trojans like to throw on nearly every play, the Gators like to run. That's why the game, a match-up between 13-0 teams, is shaping up to be a classic.
"We know what they are going to do; they know what we do,'' Wallace said. "They run, trying to pick up four or five yards a carry. We counted the plays on the videos we got and it was 193 runs and 43 passes in those games.
"We have to be ready for everything they do - the keep, the dive or the pitch. They do a good job with their offense. When Goose Creek needs a big play, they put 71 and 77 on the same side and run behind them. It's awesome to watch, but we have some big guys, too.''
Brandon Shell is No. 71 and starts at right tackle. He is 6-foot-7 and weighs 290 pounds.
Shell will play in college at South Carolina.
No. 77 is Seth Craven, the starter at left guard. He's 6-4, 250 and will slide over to the right side when the going gets tough for the Gators' backs.
Several Trojans' players said the key is to hold the Gators to as many three-and-outs as possible and get the ball back into Worley's hands. The problem, though, is the Trojans strike quickly.
Trailing South Pointe earlier this season, Worley threw five TD passes in 4:59 during a third-quarter explosion.
"We do need the ball, and we have to score when we get it,'' said the 6-5, 200-pound Worley, a Tennessee commitment. "What people who haven't seen us play don't realize is we can control the ball too.
"We have a short passing game and a long one. We can drive the ball down the field passing. We can drive passing just like Goose Creek can drive running the ball.''
Worley has completed 380 of 518 passes for 4,788 yards and 56 TDs, a state record for most touchdown passes thrown in a single season. The ratio of Trojans' passes to runs is 541 to 244.
Goose Creek has run 630 times for 4,352 yards and 63 touchdowns. The Gators have thrown just 85 passes.
When it comes to margin-of-victory, the teams are nearly the same. Goose Creek is outscoring opponents by 27 points a game, Northwestern by 24.
Goose Creek will devote lots of attention to Northwestern receivers Robert Joseph (86 catches, 1,158 yards, 20 TDs) and BJ Boyd (91 catches, 1,140 yards, 15 TDs) - a strategy that could open lanes for Worley's other receivers.
Worley's biggest area of improvement this year has been finding the open man and not forcing the ball into one of his top two targets.
Northwestern's concern will be the Gators' three-headed running attack: tailback Jerome Jordan (184 carries, 1,598 yards, 15 TDs), fullback Virgil Smalls (174 carries, 961yards, 21 TDs) and quarterback Jordan Marsh (109 carries, 781 yards, 9 TDs).
Wallace is counting on his defensive front, led by Division I recruits Gerald Dixon and Rod Byers, and small-college recruit Collins Mauldin to disrupt the Gators' flow so the Trojans' linebackers can come up and make plays.
"Since our seniors started playing four years ago," Wallace said, "we have won four region championships, been to the semifinals all four times, made it to the state twice and hopefully we'll go back after Friday.
"Our record since then is 46-10, and six of those losses were last year when we were very young and got out slow. These guys want to go back, want to win in their final season here.''
That said, Wallace looked as his watch and walked to Northwestern's mini-gym for a motivational session before turning the team loose for Thanksgiving after a 45-minute practice.
The players will eat breakfast at a local church at 9:30 this morning, board the bus at 1 p.m. and stop in Orangeburg for lunch, then, Wallace said, arrive in Goose Creek by 5.
The good news: By mid-afternoon Thursday, the sky had turned from gray to blue with no sign of rain. That's what Wallace had hoped for.
Now, his hope is that it stays that way and weather won't affect another game between the two football giants.