Class A-Public state championship preview

Photo Courtesy of Edwin Mcdaniel


9-4, Region 2, No. 9 overall seed

At the end of an up-and-down season, Charlton County is suddenly one win away from reliving its golden era under head coach Rich McWhorter. The Indians captured state championships in 1999-McWhorter’s 10th year at the school-and again in 2004, 2005 and 2006. This year the Indians lost four regular-season games, including two of their last three against Region 2 competition.

None of that mattered following impressive playoff victories over Commerce (35-21) and previously-undefeated Seminole County (42-0). In its first state semifinal appearance since 2006, Charlton County flipped the script on region-rival Irwin County. A Nov. 8 contest saw Irwin County prevail 29-26 on a last-second field goal, but Charlton County triumphed when it mattered most after sophomore defensive end Anthony Jackson blocked an extra point with four seconds left in last Friday’s showdown. That play preserved a 34-33 victory for the visiting Indians. Sophomore running back Andrew Lee led the way on offense with 24 carries for 228 yards and four touchdowns.

Lee’s recent heroics may suggest otherwise, but Charlton County is by no means afraid to open up its air attack. Senior quarterback Trae Harrington threw for 1,404 yards during the regular season, threw three touchdown passes in the rout of Seminole County and he tossed a 40-yard scoring strike to junior wide receiver Curtis Nixon in the semifinals. Harrington’s favorite targets are Nixon, senior receivers Daveron Reed and Julian Roberts. Of course, the Indians were almost forced to feature their passing game because Lee missed most of the regular season with an arm injury. Heading into the postseason, they had a total of 603 rushing yards as a team. Lee has rushed for 729 yards by himself in three playoff games.



12-1, Region 4, No. 2 overall seed

Another revenge game took place on the other side of the Class A-Public semifinal bracket. Just as Charlton County turned the tables on Irwin County, Marion County delivered some payback to Region 4-foe Hawkinsville. The Eagles had lost at Hawkinsville 14-0 on Nov. 1, but dominated 40-7 this time around. Sophomore running back Lorenzo Smothers rushed for 121 yards and two scores on 10 carriers and he also returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown to dominate the semifinal affair. In fact, Marion County’s first two touchdowns came from the defense as Corey Johnson returned a fumble 73 yards early in the second quarter.

The Eagles also enjoyed a blowout in the first round (30-0 over Turner County), but they needed a fourth-quarter comeback to edge Dooly County 24-21 in the quarterfinals. Junior running back Johnny Royal tied the game on a 24-yard touchdown run with 4:56 remaining in the game before senior kicker A.J. Wells nailed a 23-yard field goal with 45 seconds left.

Junior quarterback Dustin Eckert may be a mistake-free game-manager for a team that relies on a dominant defense and a punishing ground game, but he is an underrated part of the offense. In the nail-biter against Dooly County, Eckert ran for a touchdown and also threw a 23-yard scoring strike to Jacob Dixon. In a 20-14 win over Kendrick of Class AA on Sept. 6, both of Marion County’s touchdowns came on passes by Eckert- a 43-yarder to Trae Swanson and a 15-yarder to Smothers.

To say Marion County does not have the same kind of football history as Charlton County would be a gross understatement. The school did not even have a football program until 2006. After the Eagles went 21-20 in their first four seasons, they are 42-7 with three region titles since head coach Mike Swaney took over in the fall of 2010.

As their respective semifinal showdowns suggest, neither Charlton County nor Marion County is any stranger to rematches. Now they have one against each other on their hands in the biggest game of the season. In the first round of last year’s playoffs, Marion County beat visiting Charlton County 31-12 to reach the quarterfinals. This one should feature an intriguing battle between Charlton County’s offense and Marion County’s defense. The Indians are averaging 37 points per game during the postseason.

Since losing to Hawkinsville, Marion County has allowed an average of seven points in four contests-two of which were shutouts. Part of the Eagles’ defense is their ability to control the clock and dominate time of possession with a run-heavy offense. Lorenzo Smothers, who also gives Marion County a dangerous special-teams weapon, Royal and Terrence Riley have been leading the way on the ground.

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