VALDOSTA -- And the last shall be first.

Clinch County High, who played the last quarterfinal-round game in the Georgia High School Association football playoffs, will be the first team on the field Friday morning at the Georgia Dome.

Clinch County (8-4) overcome a 10-0 deficit to defeat Athens Academy, 14-10, in the Class A quarterfinals Saturday night in Watkinsville.

Clinch will now play top-ranked Buford (13-0) in Friday morning's semifinal game in the Georgia Dome. Buford, which had boasted about not being seriously challenged all season, got a challenge before beating Johnson County, 21-6, Friday night.

Kickoff is at 9 a.m. An all-day pass (five games) is $12, and the game will be broadcast on Georgia Public Television. WBTY-FM (98.7) in Homerville will carry the game on radio.

In the past two weeks, Clinch County has knocked off the state's No. 3 team, Claxton, and the No. 2 team, Athens Academy.

Not bad for a team which opened the season 2-3, including getting shutout by Class AA semifinalist Cook and Class AAAA Worth County.

"Our kids have have great attitude, character and work ethic," head coach Cecil Barber said. "I saw improvement every day in practice."

Clinch also had plenty of time for practice. It had three open dates this year -- it wasn't scheduled to play when the Sept. 14 games were cancelled because of the terrorist attacks, therefore it didn't have a game Nov. 16 when the September games were made up.

"Those (open dates) came at a good time," Barber said. "Sometimes those weeks are very bad, but the staff created fun things for them."

Saturday night's win was Clinch's fourth-straight, three in the playoffs.

The Panthers did their scoring damage before and after halftime. A 11-play, 60-yard drive capped by Antonio Brown's 2-yard run closed Athens Academy's lead to 10-7 by intermission.

Clinch took the second-half kickoff and went 65 yards in nine plays, with Kevin Wells' determined 37-yard touchdown run the go-ahead score.

But it was the defense which did the damage to Athens Academy, which had not lost since early September.

Clinch pounded Athens quarterback Joe Tereshinski, who plans to play for Georgia. A shoulder injury late in the first half limited his play.

"He was their offense. He throws the ball so well," Barber said. "It was the best balance attack we've faced this year or last year."

But Athens had to face Clinch's defense. Led by linebacker Paul Tolbert, the Panthers sacked Tereshinski seven times.

"Somebody asked me what I thought when we were down 10-0," Barber said. "We played through adversity all year long."

The Panthers have also stayed healthy throughout the year, except for the head coach. Barber suffered knee damage and a broken leg when he got hit on the sidelines a month ago. He's having to coach from the press box, and has been told to stay off the leg for three months.

Now he, and the Clinch fans, will have a pretty good place to watch the semifinal game. The Georgia Dome.

Barber had to stay in North Georgia for a coaches meeting Sunday, then was home by mid-afternoon. His assistants had already started preparations for Buford, and the town was also getting ready.

"There hasn't been this much excitement here since 1991 or 1992," said Barber. Clinch won state football titles in 1988 and 1991, long before the Dome games started. "There's a buzz around town."

It's Clinch's first game at the Georgia Dome. The Panthers will also have a short week of preparation, having to leave Thursday and spend the night in the Atlanta area for Friday's early kickoff.



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