Monday was the first S.C. State football press conference since early October where Bulldogs head coach Buddy Pough was able to smile and talk about a win, instead of having to smile through the disappointment of another loss.
On Saturday, in the final game of the season at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium, S.C. State sent 15 seniors and graduate students off with a 33-15 win against Hampton, in what was their final game as Bulldogs on Willie E. Jeffries Field.
With just this coming Saturday's season-ending game at Savannah State (2-8 record) at 1 p.m. remaning on the schedule, carrying a 3-6 overall record is a bit easier to bear coming off a victory.
"Our defense set the tone for the whole deal, because we turned the ball over twice right there at the very beginning; but the defense got stops for us," Pough said. "From there, we found out that we could run the ball a little bit; and it was everything but that going into the game.
"I had no idea we would be able to run the football up inside on this crowd. We found the run game and, from there, we were able to mix it up on offense and gain some confidence in what we could do the rest of the way. It was a building block, of sorts, that we could run the football."
The Bulldogs had their first 100-yard rusher in a game all season, as sophomore tailback Labron Morris tallied 134 yards and 2 touchdowns on 27 carries.
"We played a little bit better up front, with our offensive line having been a hit or miss kind of outfit all season," Pough said. "You could see some development there and you could see the results of the open week and having a chance to actualy sit back, reflect, and work on fundamental issues, like cutting off gaps better and stopping penetration.
"You still saw instances where it was 'what the heck is going on over here,' but at the same time we did play better up front for most of the game."
Even with the Hampton game being the last home game for 15 Bulldogs players, Pough recognized that the last few games of a losing season must be seen through eyes that look to the future.
"That's what the main mission is, at this point, to try to create something that we can use as a building block for future years," he said. "We found a guy or two, after taking time during the open week to work some of the younger guys, to see some of the things they can do for us."
One such "guy" they found was walk-on, scout team player Colin Washington, a redshirt sophomore from Sumter High School. He had been practicing with the team all season. But, on Saturday he wore No. 36 (not listed in game programs) and surprised fans of both teams with 2 punt returns for 35 yards and 3 kick returns for 90 yards, including a 43-yard return.
"He (Washington) showed himself to be a real weapon in the return game, and that's what it's all about at this point, trying to figure out how we can avoid having the issues we've had this season come 2018," Pough said. "It's both a confidence builder for the guys who had success, whether Morris or Washington, and for the guys who see that they could do the same thing, when given the chance.
"If we are going to be what we want to be in the future, that's what it's going to take. We need some playmakers to come to the forefront. We don't quite have the wide receivers who can really fly out there and stretch the field. Our running backs haven't been game-breakers. We've got to find guys who can go the distance."
A win Saturday in Savannah, along with an upcoming recruiting class that most probably will include an experienced junior college player or two, could give the Bulldogs some much-needed positive momentum heading into 2018.