Title berth on the line for Bears, Tigers
Published: Friday, November 29, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 29, 2013 at 5:58 p.m.
For the second straight season in Class 1A football, the area is guaranteed a team will play for the state championship, set for next Friday at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.
CLASS 1A STATE SEMIFINALS
Who: No. 2 Dixie County (10-0) at No. 4 Trenton (10-1)
When: 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: $9 at gate (estimated 2,100 tickets pre-sold)
Twitter: To follow this game, go to twitter.com/sunpreps
Broadcast: Online only at http://www.nfhsnetwork.com/events/77927 (cost is $9.95 for one-day viewing)
Up next: Winner plays winner of other semifinal, No. 1 Blountstown at Cottondale, in next Friday's state championship at Citrus Bowl in Orlando at 7 p.m.
But which one is it going to be?
■ Dixie County, ranked No. 2 in the state, unbeaten at 10-0 which will be making its first state semifinal appearance in 42 years.
■ Or host Trenton, ranked No. 4, 10-1 (with regular season loss at Dixie County), winner of 20 straight at home and making its second straight appearance in the state semifinals.
Friday at 7:30, the question of who will be going to Orlando will be settled at Trenton High's football stadium, appropriately nicknamed “The Jungle.”
This is the only high school football game in the area and a packed house with standing-room-only viewing is expected (2,100 tickets were pre-sold by Tuesday).
These two teams know each other very well. Dixie County coach Brent Wilkerson is in his 15th season and has never reached this far as the Bears' coach. His former assistant and Dixie County grad Andrew Thomas, in his third year as Trenton's coach, has yet to lose at home and led the Tigers to their first state final last year. Wilkerson's brother, Lyle, is the defensive coordinator at Trenton.
“I was at Dixie County for nine years, but this isn't like the first time we faced each other,” said Thomas, who is 34-3 as Tigers' coach. “But you know you are playing someone good.”
Thomas is 2-1 against Wilkerson, losing in Cross City the second week of the season, 18-7, the Tigers' first regular-season loss in three years. Trenton, champion of District 6, hasn't lost since, winning nine straight, including a 59-32 regional final win at Hamilton County last week.
Dixie County, champion of District 7, is winning by an average margin of 23.9 points, topping Union County by 10 (30-20) in last week's regional final. The Bears' closest call came on Sept. 20, rallying from 17-point deficit to win at Williston 38-32.
“We were two touchdowns behind at least at Williston and Taylor (County) had us 7-0 and we scored 21 straight,” Wilkerson said. “I believe we will be focused and ready. It would be better if this was a regular school week so they had a regular routine instead of it being a holiday week. But I think we will be ready to play.”
Both teams like to run the ball a lot with Dixie County averaging 295.3 yards per game and Trenton 268.2. In last week's win in Jasper, the Tigers had 56 carries for 300 yards while the Bears had 48 for 314.
“We played sloppy the last time we played them,” Thomas said of the Dixie loss. “Both of us like to run first, but we have tried to be more balanced down the stretch.”
Trenton senior QB Stephen Smith passed for 102 yards and one TD, as well as rushing for 112 yards on 12 carries. Melvin Adams ran for a team-high 130 yards and scored four TDs. Sophomore wide receiver Hamp Cheevers has accounted for 17 touchdowns, with seven scores on returns (kickoffs, punt, interception).
In their 10 wins, the Tigers' margin of victory is 32.7 points.
“Trenton has a good football team, it will be tough, it will be physical, it will be a war like tonight was,” Wilkerson said following Dixie's victory over Union County. “We are a little beat up right now. Hopefully we can be mend up for next week.
“Defense has been our difference this year. I know our offense has played well and scored some points, but our defense has played well all season long and has been the cornerstone of this football team.”
Junior defensive end Brandon Land had three sacks and nine tackles against Union last week, and junior linebackers James Horsely had 10 tackles and Quade Locke had two sacks. The secondary is led by UF commit Duke Dawson.
Offensively, the Bears are led by running backs Kendall Copeland (1,019 yards), who had 128 last week and season-best 217 against Trenton, and sophomore Julian Robinson (886 yards), who had 106 against Union. FAMU commit Shaquille Mitchem is versatile as quarterback, receiver and running back, and has accounted for 11 TDs.
Last week, both teams had turnovers problems — Dixie with four in the first half, Trenton with six for the game. In a game of this magnitude, with two opportunistic offenses, turnovers could spell trouble.
“We can't afford to give them anything,” Thomas said. “I know they will try to pound it on us. Our kids have a comfort level of playing at home. They seems to play better.
“We really are not looking back from last game, we learned a lot from it. Our kids know we can play with them. We have been preaching that our next opponent doesn't have a face, it is simply whoever is next. They (Dixie) are the best football team we have played, no doubt. But for our team, it is simply the next one.”