It's hard for Clinch County High to forget what happened the last time it played Hawkinsville, and also the last time it traveled to the Georgia Dome.
Last year, Clinch and Hawkinsville met in the same domed stadium they will play in at 9 a.m. Saturday (radio: WBTY-FM 98.7; television: Georgia Public Television). The stakes were the same -- a spot in the Class A state championship game was on the line -- and both teams were clearly among the state's best. Hawkinsville was No. 2, as they are ranked now, while Clinch had been No. 1 all season.
Clinch wouldn't mind if the result were the same, too, this Saturday. The Panthers routed the Red Devils 36-0, earned a spot in the title game, and went on to win the state title, beating Dooly County 50-14 a week later.
"Really, that was the state championship," Clinch County head coach Cecil Barber said. "The next week, we beat Dooly pretty good."
Earlier this season, Barber said that game was probably the best Clinch played all of last year. All-State running back Lorenzo Kelsaw rushed for 222 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries, and the Panthers' defense held the Red Devils to negative yardage in the shutout.
"Our kids were on a mission last year," Barber said. "We'd been to the Dome the year before (against Buford), and they wanted to go further and win the state championship. We felt we had a year's experience, and we were ready when we went and played."
This time, some things have changed. Hawkinsville is the undefeated team this year, and the higher-ranked team.
"Looking at them on tape, it looks like it will be a lot closer this year," Barber said. "They've got a lot of experience on the offensive line, like we did last year. They've got a transfer in at wide receiver (Philanzee Lawson). They do a lot of things like we do. That No. 5 they had last year (All-State tailback Elijah Clark) is gone, but they've got a new back that's No. 5 (Jeremy Marshall), and he looks about the same."
Barber admits it will be hard to beat Hawkinsville and win state again, with talented teams from Hawkinsville and Lincoln County standing in the way.
"When you get to the top, it's hard to stay there," Barber said. "It will be a challenge. It's going to depend on how hungry we are. The kids are working hard. Practice has not been bad. We want everything to stay positive.
"We'd like to be state champions. But we've got to play well the next two weeks."
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