VALDOSTA -- Five years later, it's still an indelible moment for everyone there. Down 28-3 to Warner Robins Northside at halftime in the Georgia Dome, Lowndes rallied to win the game and a state championship followed, almost as an afterthought.

The state title capped a run of nine straight wins, including four in a row against undefeated teams, for the Vikings after the team stood at 3-3 at one point.

As this year's Vikings roll toward the school's third state title, those involved with both teams see the similarities.

"They know how to win," said defensive coordinator Randy Hill, in his 12th season on the Lowndes staff. "This team is a little different because we haven't been beat. Once we got on a roll in '99, we felt like we were going to win."

Winning isn't just a feeling, but a passion when it comes to being state champions.

"The similarity that I see that closely compares the two teams together is the burning desire to be a state champion," said assistant Hiram Johnson, a 31-year veteran who owns rings from both previous championship teams. "They really have that sparkle in their eyes of wanting to be there. Whatever we've asked them to do, they've done it all season, same as the '99 team."

It also doesn't hurt to have experienced, talented players leading the way. The last state title team featured a handful of Division I prospects, including Jay Ratliff, Michael Woods and Sweet Pea Burns. This year's squad is also anchored by a solid, but smaller group of veterans.

"The biggest similarity has got to be the great senior leadership," said assistant Bill Cribb, a player on the 1980 champions and an assistant in 1999. "We don't have but 12 seniors, but those 12 seniors have shown a lot of leadership in the last four, five, six weeks.

"The leaders we have now are not real vocal, but they lead by example."

Another keystone to the title clubs was defense. Points have been in short supply this season for Lowndes' opponents, who have 86 points in 14 games. That's the second fewest in school history to the 1995 team, which allowed 83 in 11 games.

The offense is drastically different from the first two state champions. The 1980 team had a 2,000-yard passer in Eric Thomas and 2,000-yard rusher in Cedric Jones, who went on to Florida State. The 1999 club turned things around when sophomore Darrin Richardson moved to running back from corner to team with sophomore quarterback Barrett Wilkes, now at Valdosta State. Receiver Vince Copeland began playing both ways, and Woods shifted from safety to middle linebacker.

This year's Vikings have run right at all-comers with no illusions about what they're trying to do.

"People know we're going to run the football, and we're still able to run the football and to get that yardage," Johnson said. "That contributes to primarily we don't have one kid you can key on."

Which one then has been the best?

"The '99 team, we were 3-3 and we made a few key moves, and we just took off," Cribb said. "It's like I told somebody the other day. In '99, I think we probably could have beat the Green Bay Packers.

"In '80, we were all a close-knit group. We grew up together, we played midget league and junior high together, and we were expected to win."

"I can't comment on that," Johnson said. "We've had great teams. They all have their bright spots as far as this one doing some things better than the next one."

Of course, this year's group still lacks the championship ring before it can have bragging rights with those two teams. But, all the similarities to the school's two most successful teams is hard to deny.

"The more games they've won the more confidence they built in themselves," Johnson said. "That's something you just can't coach. When they get to the point where they're supposed to win, and that's one of the things I can say about this group, much like the '99 team and the '80 team, is that when they step out on the field, they're expecting to win. That's a big difference that expectation."

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