Marion County riding 1-2 punch on the ground to state title game

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.comDecember 13, 2013 

BUENA VISTA, Ga. — On Saturday, the Marion County football team’s run to a state championship game will finally be complete when it faces Charlton County in the Class A public title at the Georgia Dome.

“Run” is the operative word in the previous sentence, as the Eagles have ridden the legs of two reliable and game-breaking backs to a 12-1 record, the most wins in the school’s history, and their first-ever berth in the championship.

They will look to those backs once again on Saturday to try and complete their lofty goal.

Marion County’s run-heavy attack is led by Johnny Royal, whose 1,393 yards and 20 touchdowns is tops on the team. He’s carried 267 times this year, more than twice as many as the next two on the list combined.

He is the workhorse.

“They call me the workhorse,” Royal said. “I run inside well, hit the middle hard and lower my shoulder.”

Coach Mike Swaney called him “steady,” a player the Eagles could rely on to shoulder the load each time out.

“Johnny is kind of the steady guy,” Swaney said. “He’ll carry a bunch of times and keep the chains moving. Then we can hit you with Lorenzo (Smothers).”

Smothers is No. 2 in rushing yards, but his impact is just as important to Marion County’s game plan. He has 52 carries for 473 yards and seven touchdowns, a big chunk of each tally coming last Friday in the team’s 40-7 win over Hawkinsville in which Smothers was key.

Smothers also has 34 catches for 444 yards and three touchdowns, 178 kick return yards and 359 punt return yards. His impact on special teams was felt without him even touching the ball on a punt last week. Hawkinsville tried to kick the ball away from him and ended up with multiple punts that went less than 10 yards.

“Lorenzo can hit the home run,” Swaney said. “He’s a player we haven’t had in the past, a real playmaker that can turn the game on one play.”

Smothers’ impact may be in the passing game, catching the ball on screens and finding space outside the tackles.

“It’s going to be tough sledding inside the tackles,” Swaney said. “I honestly feel like we have to get to the perimeter, throw our screen game and then take a shot downfield every once in awhile.”

When you put the two backs together, though, they are as difficult to stop as any tandem in Class A.

“When we put both of us back there, it’s harder because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” Smothers said. “He’s hard to tackle, and it’s hard to get me one-on-one. It’s hard to stop us both back there. That’s how we want it.”

Both players’ impacts will undoubtedly be felt Saturday. If they are, it could be a good day for the Eagles.

“They’re a good running team also,” Smother said of Charlton County. “But our defense comes pretty good. The team that executes, that’s the team that can win. I think we’ve got more soldiers, more options in the running game. I think that’ll help us out.”

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