Sometimes when teams face off late in the postseason, there’s an element of mystery with both teams having seldom played recently and both sides knowing little about one another.
That won’t be the case Friday in a Class A public school semifinal when Hawkinsville travels to Marion County. The winner advances to the Dec. 12 state championship game at the Georgia Dome.
Both teams have a high level of familiarity with one another, and there are expected to be few surprises in Buena Vista.
Hawkinsville (11-1) was handed its only loss of the season by Marion County 13-6 on Oct. 17, and the Red Devils and Eagles (12-0) split a pair of matchups last year. Hawkinsville claimed the regular-season contest 14-10 before Marion County won 40-7 in the state semifinals.
“We’ve played them five times now in the last two years,” Hawkinsville head coach David Daniell said. “Our kids know what to expect, and I’m sure theirs do, as well.”
The Red Devils and Eagles have been in the same region since 2010. They have played six times, with Marion County winning all but one meeting. That loss to Hawkinsville is the Eagles’ only loss in the past two seasons.
The closeness between the two teams extends beyond on-field familiarity.
The coaching careers of both head coaches followed a path that includes a stop on the staff of Westside head coach Robert Davis. Mike Swaney was most recently the Seminoles’ defensive coordinator before moving on to Marion County in 2009, where he became head coach in 2010. On the other side of the coaching staff at Westside on offense during Swaney’s time at Westside was Daniell, who took over as the Hawkinsville head coach in 2012 after moving there as offensive coordinator in 2008.
Both have guided their programs to a high level of success. Daniell has shepherded the Red Devils to the semifinals the past two seasons. Swaney has directed the Eagles to three quarterfinal appearances and a state title in five seasons.
“There are going to be few surprises, that’s for sure,” Daniell said. “He and I pretty much know what each other will do.”
And with so much history, both teams will likely have moments burned into their memory prior to kickoff that’ll stand to serve as motivation.
Marion County has beaten every team it has faced in the past two seasons. Every one that is, except for Hawkinsville. As for the Red Devils, their defense has kept all but one opponent the past two years 21 points or less. The exception was the Eagles in last year’s semifinals.
Hawkinsville’s heralded defense, which has made a habit out of shutting down opposing offenses, will face a strong challenge from Marion County. At the heart of it will be all-purpose threat Lorenzo Smothers, who has accounted for nearly half of the Eagles’ touchdowns. Of Marion County’s 68 scores this season, Smothers has 33 of them.
He can score or get the Eagles into position to score. Smothers has rushed for 837 yards and 16 touchdowns and hauled in 807 receiving yards to go with 13 touchdowns. On top of that, he has returned three punts for scores.
Senior quarterback Dustin Eckert, who has thrown for 1,242 yards, and 1,000-yard running back Johnny Royal also lead the Eagles. The prime threat, however, is Smothers.
“You can’t expect to slow him down,” Daniell said. “He will get his yards. He does it all for them.”