VALDOSTA -- They play defense as well as anyone in the state, they run the ball as efficiently as anyone in the state, and they are a group of disciplined 16-18-year olds that parents can only find in their wildest dreams, yet it's that infamous X-factor that has brought the Lowndes Vikings to its second straight state championship game.

That X-factor is a swagger mixed with humility, a discipline and enjoyment simultaneously and an attention to detail while still being as bright eyed as teenagers.

The Lowndes high football players' talent has made them a good team, but the way they play beyond the X's, O's, bench press and 40-yard dash times has made them such a strong contender for the Vikings second-straight state title.

"It's an honor," senior Matt Harper said. "The whole team both last year and this year have worked so hard for it.

"I think we can do it. We have the heart to do it."

A big part of that confidence comes from Lowndes head coach Randy McPherson, whose disciplined, yet not elaborate, set of offensive plays represents who he is.

A simple football coach who relies on the basics, yet performs them with such effectiveness that it has made him two-time Region 1-AAAAA coach of the year.

The other big part of why the Vikings have that extra quality is their senior leadership.

All of the seniors bring a special leadership ability with them, such as Jermel Demps wearing the maroon jersey for four years, Doug Belk guiding the offense as 10 sets of eyes glare on him in the huddle, and Lynn Williams with his uncanny ability to run the ball. However, another player also stands out for the things he does without onlookers actually able to realize it.

Harper, Lowndes' Mr. Everywhere, is one of many leaders as the Vikings take the field Saturday against Brookwood.

Harper has been a Vikings staple for the past three years, appearing on offense, defense and special teams.

"I play tight end, and I played punter, too," Harper said. "And, later on last season, I moved to linebacker.

"They said they needed my help, and I said, 'Fine with me.'"

Outside of the stat box, Harper is a senior who is looked up to not because of the way he screams at teammates or says how good he is, but by how he works.

"He's just a good football player," McPherson said. "He's smart, he doesn't ever say anything, but he's a leader.

"He's a leader in the fact that he makes plays. Everybody wants to make plays like he makes plays. He has good character, and he's a good kid."

In the stat box, the 6-foot-1, 203-pound Harper was the Vikings' leading tackler at the conclusion of the regular season, tallying 44 solo tackles and 20 assists from his linebacker position, and was the team's second-leading receiver, posting six catches for 124 yards, with two touchdowns, from the tight end spot.

Harper, who started out playing just tight end, is part of a Lowndes offensive line that has allowed its running backs to compile 2,927 yards on 424 carries.

On defense, he is always swarming around the ball when opposing running backs are lucky enough to get past the Vikings' defensive line, delivering ferocious hits.

"He's just a real valuable player," McPherson said.

On a team trying for its second consecutive state title, Harper is a valuable player on a team full of valuable players.

He will lead the Vikings, along with his fellow teammates, against Brookwood, which earned its trip to Martin Stadium Saturday at 7:30 p.m. by defeating Dacula 23-14 in the semifinals.

"That senior class is full of players like that," McPherson said. "It's hard to pick out just Matt as a leader.

"When you look at that senior class, that class is full of kids like that."

The senior class has been a part of Lowndes success because of the fact that they lead and relish in their roles.

"All the seniors are role models for everybody," Harper said. "Everybody looks up to us, we try to do our best."

When the season is over, Harper will still have one more game to play. He has been selected to play in the annual North-South All-Star Game, for some of the top seniors from around the state.

After that, he'll get ready for baseball, where he's a standout hitter and pitcher for Lowndes' baseball team.

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The State championship game between the Lowndes Vikings and the Brookwood Broncos will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

The game will be broadcast live on 99.5 Kix starting at 5 p.m.

The 99.5 Kix Country Tailgate show with Charlie Walker, Wes James and Bill Osborne will begin at 5 p.m.

Following the Tailgate show will be James and Osborne's pregame show at 6:30 followed by the game at 7:30 p.m.

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