It doesn't take much this late in the high school football season to get players motivated. A win in the state quarterfinals grants a berth in the state semifinals but more importantly, a trip to the Georgia Dome and an appearance on statewide television.
Two area schools, Washington-Wilkes and Swainsboro, never have played in the Dome; Lincoln County has been there twice. With victories tonight, all three could play their semifinal matchups next weekend.
It seems the flu bug that plagued Washington-Wilkes for the past three weeks finally has left the team, and the Tigers appear to be full strength -- which is bad news for Miller County.
With several players out with the flu, the Tigers played sluggishly in victories over Lincoln County in their regular-season finale and over Bremen during the first week of the playoffs. However, they recovered last week and put together four complete quarters, blowing away Buford 28-0 to set up tonight's game with Miller County.
"We've got to be ready to play and eliminate the mistakes at this stage," Washington-Wilkes coach Frank Vohun said. "They've got to do what they're coached to do. And they better do it hard."
Just 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds, Miller County running back Don Calloway is being touted as one of the state's top running backs. The senior has rushed for more than 2,300 yards and 34 touchdowns this season. But he hasn't faced a defensive front like Washington-Wilkes' line of Jerry Brown, Michael Bailey, Ryan Cowen and Adam Thornton.
Since their two opening losses to Hart County and Cedar Shoals, the Tigers are averaging 35.1 points per game and are surrendering just 7.2 points. In that span they have posted five shutouts.
Rayvan Teague admitted it. The success of his Tigers have surprised even him this season.
Teague says he hopes his team will continue to surprise him tonight when the Tigers tackle unbeaten Hart County tonight in Swainsboro.
"We're all excited, the community is excited, but the kids have handled it well," Teague said. "But they've continued to stay focused. We still don't know what to expect."
The most promising thing for Swainsboro is that the team consists mainly of juniors that should go deep in the state playoffs if not contend for a state championship. That's the way it was for Hart County last season.
Under first-year coach William DeVane last year, the Tigers made it to the quarterfinal round before losing to Mary Persons with a team made up mostly juniors. This season, those seniors are trying to lead the Bulldogs to the Georgia Dome for the first time. But they'll have to get past Swainsboro first.
"Over the last two years, those guys are 24-1, and they've gone 24-1 for a reason," Teague said. "They impress me in two ways: One, their kicking game is good in all aspects, and two, they got good team speed."
Hart's signal-caller, Jeremiah Van Dora, may be the team's most impressive player. The senior has passed for 1,190 yards and eight touchdowns while rushing for 571 yards. But more importantly, he's thrown just one interception this year, which happened when he underthrew a receiver in last week's 28-0 win over North Forsyth.
Van Dora may meet his match in Swainsboro defensive back Damian Coleman, who has intercepted nine passes this season.
"Damian has played well for us, and he's the second- leading tackler on our team," Teague said. "He's emerged as a tremendous player for us."
Traditionally, Calvary Baptist hasn't been a football power. But that doesn't mean Lincoln County will roll over the Cavaliers tonight when the two teams meet at Buddy Bufford Stadium.
The Red Devils face an upstart program that upset previously undefeated Atkinson County 20-19 last Friday. They not only have big-play ability, but they also can control the ball and the clock.
On their game-winning drive, Calvary used an 18-play, 86-yard scoring that took 9:06 off the clock in the fourth quarter.
A victory would send the Red Devils back to the Georgia Dome for the third straight season.
Reach Tim Morse at (706) 823-3216.