After its 40-7 win over Hawkinsville in the Class A public state semifinals, Marion County was understandably overjoyed. On Monday, three days removed from the win, the players were still hyped up, Eagles coach Mike Swaney said.
“Even in the school building, they were just all hyped up,” he said. “We kind of just let it go. Monday, we had to practice inside because of the rain and I had a talk with them. I told them I wanted them to calm down and make this week as normal as they could possibly make it.”
The fact is, though, this week is anything but normal.
The Eagles (12-1) are preparing for their first trip to the state title game in program history, where they will meet Charlton County (9-4) at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the Georgia Dome. Charlton County boasts a rich history, of course, dating back to 1962. It has won four state titles during that time.
“They’re a great team,” Swaney said. “Coach (Rich) McWhorter has been here before with Charlton County. He knows what it takes to win it all.”
And despite the four losses for Charlton County this year, Swaney knows McWhorter’s team is more than capable of earning title No. 5 this week.
The Indians are led by a strong running back, Andrew Lee, who comes in averaging 196 yards per game in the playoffs. Only a sophomore, Lee (5-11, 200 pounds) leads the team with 104 carries for 985 yards and 14 touchdowns in just six games.
“They put him in the pistol and hand it to him downhill,” Swaney said. “He’s very good at finding a crease in the defense. Our No. 1 priority is that we have to tackle well and maintain gap integrity. He’s just gashed everybody in the playoffs.”
The Indians potent ground game is complimented by senior quarterback Trae Harrington, who has 1,778 passing yards on the season.
“Last year when we played them, they were strictly a passing team,” Swaney said. “Now they can maintain more balance.”
Defensively, Charlton County is big inside, which will force the talented Marion County rushing attack outside the tackles. Swaney said he’d like to use a successful screen game to open up opportunities downfield.
Special teams, which is normally an advantage for the Eagles, will be more even this time out. Swaney said controlling and protecting the ball could possibly determine the outcome of the game.
Most importantly, though, he wants his team to maintain composure and treat it like any other week. That’s not easy when they are preparing to play in the Georgia Dome.
“The coaches just have to stay focused and grounded,” Swaney said. “We don’t want to talk about the Dome. The kids are going to follow our lead. If we’re just fired up and every word coming out of our mouth is ‘the Georgia Dome,’ they’re going to follow our lead. I’ve tried to focus on the fact that we’re playing for a state championship.”
Johnny Royal said it’s difficult to treat it the same way, but that the team is capable.
“It’s live TV and everybody’s watching, so it’s a bigger deal,” he said. “We just have to settle in.”
Running back Lorenzo Smothers said the team has kept that in mind all week.
“We came back in June and July to start getting ready and we’ve been working for this since then,” he said. “We’re ready to win a state title.”
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