HOMERVILLE -- If Clinch County is to move on to the quarterfinals, they're going to have to do something which has yet to be done this season.

They must beat Claxton.

Claxton (11-0) is one of only two undefeated teams in Class A. The Tigers played in a region (3-A) that was considered weak, but nevertheless, went unscathed through the first 11 games.

"They were undefeated, but I don't think they played a tough a non-region schedule, like we did," Clinch head coach Cecil Barber said. "They didn't play teams like Dooly County, Worth, Cook, Monroe. But we play those teams so we can be better for this time of year."

That being said, Barber still respects Claxton as a fine football team, and admits his team must be ready when they travel northeast to Claxton for Friday night's 7:30 p.m. game.

"They're undefeated. They've got a good team," Barber said. "It will be a challenge for us."

The key for Clinch will be stopping Claxton's standout tailback, Jonathan Wilkerson, who has rushed for over 1,300 yards so far in 2001.

"The Wilkerson kid is a good running back," Barber said. "They like to run the ball with him out of the I (formation)."

Claxton's also got a good defense with speed, much like the Panthers.

"They kind of remind me of us," Barber said.

"We match up well with them," Barber continued. "We may be a little bigger than they are. We both have good defenses, and like to run the ball. They have guys that go both ways, and we don't, and that may favor us. But it's going to be a tough ballgame Friday."

Clinch likes the position it is in right now. The Panthers have played some of their best football the past few weeks, including last week's 49-6 pounding of Calhoun County.

"Like I said before the season started, I thought we'd be at our best once the playoffs started," Barber said. "Last week, we had a good overall effort. Everyone played well."

That has continued this week in practice.

"I don't think we've ever had a better week of practice since I've been here," said Barber, who's been in Homerville for 27 years. "The players' spirits are good. They've worked hard all week. We're getting the effort and the dedication that we need to win. This kind of practice is what every coach dreams of getting from his team."

Further compounding Barber's joy about his team's practices is the fact that all of his players are healthy, and none will miss Friday night's game. Barber himself is banged up, and will once again do his coaching from the press box instead of the sidelines, but he's the only one in Panther country.

So what must Clinch do to beat Claxton?

"We've just got to do what we've been doing," Barber said. "Play good defense, move the ball, not turn the ball over, and play like we're capable. If we do that, I think we'll have a chance to win."



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