Word was Goose Creek High School’s football program was much-improved as it moved into the second year of the Jason Winstead era.

That has proven to be more than just preseason hope.

The Gators equaled their win total from all of 2018 and earned their most significant victory since 2015 with a 35-27 win over Berkeley on Friday.

The Stags have won three region crowns in a row, a streak in danger now that the Gators (4-2, 2-0 Region 7-AAAAA) proved their legitimacy.

Next is a test to see how mature the Gators are. They travel to Wando High School on Friday for a clash that could go a long way toward bringing the Gators their first region championship in four years, when they advanced to the Lower State final.

“The Berkeley game was a big game but (Wando) is even bigger,” Winstead said. “This is a huge game for them, too. They’re a win away from being right back tied for the region lead.”

Wando is 4-2 overall and 1-1 in the region after winning a defensive battle with Stratford, 15-7, on Friday. The Warriors came up with three turnovers and limited the Knights to 259 yards.

“Defensively, they blitz a lot and come from all angles,” Winstead said. “We’ve got to be ready to pick that stuff up. Their quarterback is a gunslinger and those kids play hard for Coach (Jimmy) Noonan. In high school football, that will take you a long way.”

The Warriors and Gators have a handful of common opponents. Both edged West Ashley and lost to Fort Dorchester.

Wando, though, edged Ashley Ridge in overtime while the Gators tripped up against the Foxes.

The Warriors lost to Berkeley, 43-13, on Oct. 4. The Stags recorded a safety and turned Wando turnovers into 20 points.

Conversely, Goose Creek bolted out of the gate quickly on the Stags and took a 14-0 lead in the showdown at John Fulmer Field. The Gators extended the lead to 21-0 in the third quarter and held on in the fourth quarter to hand the Stags their first region loss since 2015.

“We’re excited,” Winstead said. “We felt good going in. We didn’t know what type of game it would be or how it would go but we felt it would be different than last year.”

Berkeley had beaten Goose Creek 35-3 in 2018 to complete a perfect, 5-0 region campaign.

Gators quarterback Emmanuel Mukuamu threw for 258 yards and three scores and rushed for 118 yards and a score. Receiver Damon Mouzon hauled in 10 passes for 140 yards and two scores. He also had a 64-yard kickoff return. DJ Matthews hauled in Mukuamu’s other touchdown.

Malachi Williams chipped in 81 yards rushing and Demetri Simmons scored a touchdown on the ground.

“Our offensive line took over midway through the third quarter,” Winstead said.

That group was left tackle Rashaun Smith, left guard Jayden Johnson, center Eddie Loftis, right guard Andrew Dezelle and right tackle Deangelo Bright.

On defense, Winstead said linebacker Andrew Allen led the way for the Gators with eight tackles and defensive linemen Symeon Kennedy and Gavin White-Burgess were disruptive.