The Valdosta Daily Times
For the past 17 years — an entire lifetime for most of the team’s players — the Clinch County football team has made the playoffs every year.
If the Panthers want to make it for the 18th straight year, they have to win Friday night.
Clinch (4-5) travels to Ashburn to face Turner County (5-4) on Friday. The game kicks off at 7:30 p.m.
Clinch knows how important Friday’s game is.
“Basically, it’s all coming down to the final game of the regular season,” Panthers head coach Jim Dickerson told The Clinch County News. “If we win, we most likely make the playoffs. If we lose, we’re most likely out.”
This is the first year that the GHSA has held separate playoffs for Class A’s public and private schools. Under the new format, the top 16 public schools make it to the playoffs, which begin Nov. 26. The top 16 teams are determined by a computerized formula, which is available on the GHSA’s website (ghsa.net).
In this week’s rankings, Clinch is ranked 14th with 11.39 rankings points. Only 0.12 points separate No. 13 Johnson County and No. 17 Gordon Lee. If the Panthers win Friday against No. 18 Turner, they would all but secure a playoff spot, but if they lose, they would almost certainly fall out of the top 16.
Turner County started the season strong, going 5-1. But the Rebels have lost their last three games, including a 27-26 loss to No. 6 Irwin County in their last game (on Oct. 26), and have fallen out of the top 16. They are close enough to the top 16, however, that a win over Clinch could earn them a playoff spot (they are 0.13 points behind 16th-place Greenville).
Clinch has won seven of the 11 games it has played against Turner, including a 45-8 win in 2011 and a 47-14 win in the Panthers’ 2010 state championship season.
Last week, the Panthers faced another must-win game, and they narrowly defeated Lanier County 3-0 in their Homecoming game at Donald Tison Field. Joost Smits, an exchange student from the Netherlands, kicked a 28-yard field goal with 7:11 left in the third quarter for the game’s only points. Clinch defenders Dondre Lacey and Brandon Grady intercepted passes in the fourth quarter to help the Panthers hold on for the victory.
Clinch’s defense held Lanier to just 48 yards of total offense. The Panthers had 190 yards of offense, but could only manage three points. Quarterback James Core rushed for 106 yards on 21 carries and passed for 30 yards (with one interception).
“As a defensive guy, I was happy to get a shutout,” Dickerson said. “But we just made too many mistakes on the offensive side. We’re going to have to really focus on the fundamentals.”
Clinch now has a 15-0 lifetime record against Lanier.