The roads have been similar so far, but the Bears hope this one doesn’t have a dead end.
After winning three home playoff games in 2010, Burke County lost at Carrollton in the Class AAA state semifinals. This season, Burke County again went 3 for 3 at home in the postseason, running the winning streak at the Bear Den to 16 games.
But the road hasn’t been as friendly, especially with the season on the line. Burke County has lost seven consecutive road playoff games, the past three coming in coach Eric Parker’s tenure.
Tonight, the Bears can advance to the state championship game for the first time since 1997 when they visit Gainesville in the Class AAA state semifinals.
“At some point, if you’re going to be a solid playoff team, you’re going to have to beat a good team in a tough environment,” Parker said.
That team is Gainesville, a squad coming off the elimination of Sandy Creek, the two-time defending Class AAA state champion and former owners of a 41-game winning streak.
The Red Elephants (12-1) haven’t lost since Aug. 26, with the lone setback coming to powerhouse Buford, a team that has won four Class AA state crowns in a row.
Much like a week ago, Burke County is tasked with stopping a major talent. First was Allatoona running back Miles Jones, who rushed for more than 100 yards before leaving with an injury in the Bears’ 32-28 win.
This week, much of the attention is focused behind center.
Gainesville quarterback Deshaun Watson accounted for five touchdowns against Sandy Creek, totaling more than 300 offensive yards. Parker said he’s worried about Watson’s running and throwing skills.
What impresses Gainesville coach Bruce Miller the most is what Watson does at the line. The coach said the quarterback can recognize defenses and sometimes will change the play.
But the Bears have their own dual-threat talent, and it’s
actually with a pair. Donquell Green and Corey Mayton have shown to be dangerous throwing and running.
“Defenses don’t know what to do,” Green said about having him and Mayton in on the same play. “I like seeing the other team confused.”
The duo said this year’s Bears team is different than the previous version. With better focus, Burke County thinks it can handle the stage better this season.
Gainesville will hope to disrupt the focus with its 3-4 defensive scheme hoping to slow down an offensive averaging more than 40 points a game. Gainesville uses blitzes at a rate Parker said his team isn’t used to seeing.
The teams’ defenses will have to minimize the big plays and contain the playmakers on both sides of the ball. Miller believes the team that wins the trenches will be the one advancing to the Georgia Dome.
“Any game of this magnitude is won at the line of scrimmage,” Miller said. “They got a great defensive line and we got a pretty good offensive line. What’s going to happen when they meet up, we’ll find out.”