HOMERVILLE -- Clinch County is trying to move on to the Class A quarterfinals for the fourth straight year. Tonight, Randolph-Clay will head three hours east from Cuthbert to try to stop them.
Clinch (10-1) hosts Randolph-Clay (10-1) at 7:30 p.m. at Donald Tison Stadium.
Clinch opened the playoffs with a 31-9 victory over Emanuel County Institute. Randolph-Clay defeated Johnson County 35-14.
Randolph-Clay, in its first A season, went 9-1 this season and was ranked No. 4 in Class A for several weeks before a 41-19 loss to No. 2 Pacelli Catholic dropped the Red Devils to No. 8 at the end of the regular season.
Clinch head coach Jim Dickerson sees them as a tough opponent for his No. 3 Panthers.
"At this point, every team that's still playing is good," Dickerson said. "Randolph-Clay is the second seed out of their region, but they're as good as some of the No. 1 seeds. They're 10-1, like we are. They're maybe the most athletic team we've played all season.
"Their one loss came to Pacelli, and in that game, they turned the ball over seven times. They had two interceptions and a fumble returned for touchdowns, and that was the difference in the game. Other than that, they played with Pacelli."
The marquee matchup will be Randolph-Clay's running game, led by tailback Chris Clay, against Clinch's run defense. Clay, only a freshman, has rushed for 1,900 yards this season, primarily out of a stack-I formation (a three-back I-formation). Clinch's senior-laden defense, meanwhile, has allowed just 142 yards the entire season.
"I'd say the key will be our defense against their running game," Dickerson said. "They can throw the ball, but like us, they lean on the run. They run right at you behind that big 330-pound lineman they've got, and that's when they're at their best. Their strength is running the ball, and our strength is our defensive line and linebackers. If (Clay) runs for a lot of yards on our defense, they'll have a good chance to win. If we hold him under 100 yards, I like our chances of winning."
Dickerson feels his team has responded after struggling early last week against ECI.
"We won 31-9, but that was not indicative of how close the game was," Dickerson said. "With five minutes to play, we were only up seven points. It was anybody's game. Then we wound up scoring a couple of late touchdowns. But they gave us a scare.
"I felt a lot of good came out of that game. It had been six or seven weeks since we'd had a close game, because our region was down this year, and we had gotten complacent. But that kind of woke us up. I think our kids have responded to that. We've had our best week of practice in a few weeks.
"Our seniors have been to the Dome every year, and we don't want to fall short this year. I think we've got a good team, a good coaching staff, a senior-laden defense. We've got good chemistry; 59 kids all playing for each other. We've played well all season. Time will tell how far we can go, but I think we've got a good football team."
Defensive end Russell Robinson, out all year with a broken foot, returned last week, which makes the Clinch defense that much better. He'll split time at end with sophomore Quincy Williams again.
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