For the second season in a row, the Marion County football team finds itself one win from the Class A public semifinals.
As the No. 2 seed in this year's playoffs, a win today would guarantee it would host the semifinals with a trip to the Georgia Dome on the line. First, however, it must face a familiar opponent when region foe Dooly County comes to town in the quarterfinals.
The Eagles (10-1) already beat Dooly County (8-3) this season, 27-25, and have won each of the past three meetings between the two teams.
Coach Mike Swaney knows that is no indication of how tonight's game will go and that his team can take nothing for granted.
"One of the cons is the old saying: It's hard to beat a good team twice," he said. "They're definitely going to have a lot of incentive to beat us, because we've beaten them three times in a row."
The last meeting was hardly a runaway. Marion County survived a two-point conversion attempt by Dooly County for a 27-25 victory. The Eagles returned a kick for a touchdown in that game, while Dooly County fumbled a punt, swinging the game in their direction. Aside from that, Dooly proved to be on equal footing.
"If you look over the scores from the last four years, there's hardly any separation between us two," Swaney said. "We've maybe been able to make less mistakes, and our kicker (A.J. Wells) has been big. That's pretty much it."
The top thing that stands out about Dooly County, Swaney said, was its athlet
ic ability. The players are fast on defense, so potential big plays turn into modest gains.
"They're just super athletic," he said. "Their linemen, their skill guys, everyone."
Unlike most of Dooly's opponents, though, Swaney said Marion could share the field and "scrap" with the Bobcats.
"We play hard, too," he said. "It's just two teams that are basically going full tilt on every play. They're probably a little more athletic than we are, so we have to execute. We can't make mistakes on offense, and we have to play sound defense and use the kicking game to our advantage."
If the Eagles can do that, they may have a chance to go where no team in program history has ever gone. A win would mean their first semifinals trip in the school's eight-year history.
"That would be huge," Swaney acknowledged. "We'd be hosting Round 3 with a chance to go to the Dome. You can go through 30 years of coaching and coach on a lot of a good teams like I have, but it's rare to get home-field advantage for all your playoff games.
"It would be a huge step for our program. Sometimes that next step is hard to take. It hasn't been for lack of effort, I can tell you that.
"We'll have to play sound football to make that happen, but we've got a good team. We've got a good chance."
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