Winning isn't the only fun for Dexter Copeland at Macon County
Each year, a version of the arena scene in “Hoosiers” is played out when some state football teams arrive at the Georgia Dome for the weekend of the championship games.
This weekend is no exception, as a few hundred teenagers venture out of their comfort zone and communities for the game of their lives.
Coaches usually have to deal with nerves. Dexter Copeland doesn’t expect that to be a problem with Macon County when the Bulldogs face McIntosh County Academy at 10 a.m. in the Class 1A public school championship.
“One thing about our kids is they’re not nervous,” Copeland said. “We’ve got some resilient kids here. They just don’t get nervous; they don’t feel the pressure. Like (Monday), I had to stop them and say, ‘Hey, this is the state championship game. We play Saturday, y’all realize that?’”
It’s a big deal but not necessarily something to get all worried about. Despite some turnovers, the Bulldogs held their own against Class 6A semifinalist Northside and lost a shootout with Class 2A finalist Fitzgerald.
They went 3-2 in the regular season against playoff teams, avoided the jinx of playing a team twice by topping Manchester in the region championship and then in the playoffs. And it has been an odd season. Against Turner County and then Manchester in the playoffs, the lights went out at Adams-Maffett Field.
In the region championship game, the game officials didn’t show up, so Macon County and Manchester got started after games are normally done, and the Bulldogs rolled 55-13. The waiting game was, in fact, a game for the Bulldogs.
“All of the coaches were outside trying to talk; we’re all a ball of nerves,” Copeland said. “Saturday morning, I get a text message. ‘Hey Coach, did you see your football team doing the mannequin challenge before the game?’ ”
Copeland was mad, until he put that looseness together with the result, and he couldn’t stay that way.
“I’m thinking they’re all uptight,” Copeland said. “They’re in the dressing room by themselves doing the mannequin challenge. I got mad for a little while. Then I started laughing about it. ‘Man, only our kids.’ ”
The Bulldogs (11-2) follow the lead of their head coach and staff and then go a little further.
“He makes it fun,” defensive back Tyrese Adkinson said, starting to smile. “It’s a lot of stuff.”
So the Bulldogs don’t expect any tightness as kickoff approaches.
“We’ve been talking about it all along,” senior offensive lineman Peter Eaddie said. “The whole year, we’ve been talking about it. It’s finally here. It’s good to know that our hard work paid off.”
As has MCA’s hard work.
The Buccaneers (10-2) might have started the postseason as sleepers, but their 24-8 semifinal win at Clinch County drew attention. The primary test for Macon County will be against an aggressive defense that is flexible and shows as much on nearly every play.
“They’re very quick defensively up front,” Copeland said. “They give you a lot of different (looks) on every snap, a lot of blitzes from all different angles. They’re a defense that’s going to attack you. They’re not a defense that’s going to sit around and wait. They want to attack you and make you make mistakes.”
The Buccaneers will be attacking an offensive line that has protected a quarterback with one interception and 52 touchdown passes who is three such passes from the state record.
“He’s a humble guy, I’ll tell you that,” Eaddie said of teammate K’hari Lane. “He goes out and plays the way he plays. I’m not sure of the stats, but I’m not sure our quarterback’s been touched too much.”
Lane is 183-of-296 for 3,557 yards, 52 touchdowns and one interception. Trey Brown, Tra Mathis, Curt McDonald and Keldric Thomas all have at least 300 receiving yards, and the passing numbers probably would be higher had Mathis not missed several games with an injury suffered against Northside.
Running back Jared Daniels (1,311 rushing yards) is close to 100 percent, and Akeevious McClendon adds 762 yards.
They’ll face a defense that has recorded a whopping 46 sacks, led by Dallas Anthony (9 1/2) and A Roberts and J Roberts (7 1/2 each).
“They’re just aggressive,” Copeland said. “So much stuff. You’ve got to be able to look for it and find it.”
It’ll be a task for an offensive line that is a little makeshift — standout junior Christian Meadows is out, having suffered an injury in the first playoff game — but has found a groove.
“The philosophy has changed a little bit throughout the season because of injuries,” Copeland said. “But the kids, it’s a testament to our team. I challenged our offensive linemen. ‘Hey we’ve got to get more physical; we can’t just throw the football all over the place.’ And they have done it.”
And he expects more of the same Saturday from this loose, nerves-free team, although the Bulldogs are unlikely to repeat the mannequin challenge. ... Probably unlikely.
“Loosest team I’ve ever coached in my life,” Copeland said. “I think it helps us. I don’t think we can play in an uptight rah-rah situation. Our kids, they’re loose all the time. Fun-loving kids. They love the game of football. They’re having the time of their lives. at practice, a game.
“They’re just having the time of their life.”
Saturday’s championship games
All games are televised by GPB
10 a.m.: Class 1A public school, McIntosh County Academy vs. Macon County
1 p.m.: Class 2A, Benedictine vs. Fitzgerald
4:30 p.m.: Class 4A, Cartersville vs. Thomson
8 p.m.: Class 7A, Roswell vs. Grayson