Semifinals preview: Class A-Public

Irwin Co. Football

Charlton County at Irwin County

Get your popcorn ready for another showdown between Region 2-A rivals Irwin County and Charlton County. The teams just faced each other on Nov. 8 at Irwin County, where the host Indians prevailed 29-26 on a last-second field goal.

The semifinal clash will again be held at Irwin County (10-1-1), which is in the last four of the state tournament for the first time since 1997. Arguably the state’s most unbalanced offense is on display when the Indians take the field, but that is not to say it is a weakness. In fact, their offense is a juggernaut. The Indians have run the ball more than 500 times this season for 4,273 yards and 59 touchdowns. They have not required any kind of passing attack (308 yards and four touchdowns through the air in 2013). Both Jakyron Young and Antuane Merritt have amassed more than 1,000 rushing yards and have scored double-digit touchdowns.

Head coach Jonathan Lindsey has had his program on the rise since taking over at Irwin County in 2011. The team had compiled three straight losing seasons but the rebuilding process took just one year, as the Indians went 3-7 in 2011 then 7-4 in 2012.

Charlton County had not been to the semifinals since 2006, but this team is invoking memories of the glory days under head coach Rich McWhorter. The Indians (8-4) captured state titles in 1999, 2004, 2005 and 2006. McWhorter assumed the reins back in 1990.

Since starting 2-2, Charlton County has played its best football. It saved its most impressive performance for last, destroying No. 1 seed and previously-unbeaten Seminole County 42-0 in the quarterfinals. Unlike Irwin County, Charlton County utilizes a pass-happy offense. It is led by quarterback Trae Harrington and sophomore running back Andrew Lee.


Hawkinsville at Marion County

Marion County and Hawkinsville will meet again in a rematch from earlier this season between the Region 4-A foes. They squared off on Nov. 1, when host Hawkinsville came out on top of a defensive battle 14-10. Following a scoreless tie at halftime, Hawkinsville scored the game-winner with seven minutes remaining on a three-yard touchdown run by quarterback Dakota Sloan.

This is a second consecutive Region 4-A rematch for Marion County (11-1), which battled past Dooly County 24-21 in last week’s quarterfinals. The Eagles had also won a regular-season thriller over Dooly County, 27-25 on Oct. 18. Marion County likes to keeps the ball on the ground, averaging close to 200 yards per game. Running back Johnny Roy has gained more than 1,300 yards this season to go along with 20 rushing touchdowns. Sophomore Lorenzo Smothers is a force out of the backfield as both a runner and a pass-catcher and he has been extremely dangerous returning kickoffs and punts. The Eagles’ defense is led by middle linebacker Brandon Green.

Expect the clock to move along at a quick pace in this one, as Hawkinsville (8-3) features a ground game to an even greater extent than Marion County. The Red Devils are averaging 280 rushing yards and a mere 30 passing yards per contest. In a 23-8 quarterfinal defeat of Clinch County, they racked up 278 rushing yards and 24 through the air (their only passing attempt of the game was a completion from Sloan to Royce Owens). Leading rusher Dontavious Grace (12 touchdowns) shares the load with J.D. Burden, who did most of the damage last week. Burden churned out 184 of his 198 yards in the first half while scoring one touchdown. Sloan, who has 356 passing yards and more than 500 rushing yards this year, scored twice on the ground against Clinch County.

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