By Doug Gorman
When it comes to the eight-man version of high school football, few teams can match the success of the Mt. Veron Crusaders.
Head Coach C.E. Rhoades' team has turned into a state power over the last two decades as a member of the Georgia Christian Athletic Association, and will play in its 10th state title game tonight at 7:30 p.m. at home against Colonial Hills.
Should Mt. Vernon come away with the win, it will be Rhoades six state title, something he doesn't pay too much attention to.
“I really haven't kept track,” he said. “I sort of let the players keep up with all that.”
Friiday's championship will be a rematch from of a game earlier this year.
Mt. Vernon is back in the state title game for the third time in four years, with its last state championship coming in the 2002 season.
Last season, the Crusaders entered the championship game undefeated, but lost to Dawson Street. Mt. Vernon is again undefeated, and hoping to avoid a similar fate.
Losing last year is something some senior members of the Crusaders haven't forgotten.
“I'm kind of nervous about it,” said quarterback Clayton Fielder. “We lost last year and everything, but we have a pretty good team, and we have lots of confidence. I just hope we can work together and pull it out.”
Mt. Vernon cruised to the state title round with a team that didn't have a whole lot of depth when the season began.
“If you had ask me prior to the start of the season if we would be playing for the state championship game, I would say that is a goal, but maybe not a realistic goal,” said Rhoades. “The boys got together and played hard, they are like a little family. They are not perfect, but they play hard and they take it serious.”
The Crusaders will have to win the GCAA title without one of their key offensive threats in junior running back Kevin Hall, who is out of action with a broken collar bone.
“He told me had he not been a junior, he would be devestated by this,” said Rhoades. “We are hoping the guys who step in will carry the load.”
The Crusaders advanced to championship with a 36-6 victory against Shiloh Hills to set up the second meeting of the season against Colonial Hills.
In the first meeting, Mt. Vernon dominated, winning the game 66-18.
“They have improved since that first game, they have two ball players back who didn't play, and they have changed their offense. So it's going to be a little difficult, because they have the fastest back in the association,” said Roades.
After going undefeated in the regular season, Jesse Mitchell points to team chemistry as the biggest reason the squad is back in the state championship game.
“We have a great team unity,” Mitchell said. “We have a lot of heart, and we have a common goal. We know if we play as a unit, we can't be beat.”
Rhoades has built Mt. Vernon into a state power by mixing it up on offense. Although the Crusaders run more than they pass, Fielder has helped lead the team to the title game with pinpoint passing. A week ago, he was 7 of 10 for 88 yards and a pair of scores.
One of his favorite targets is Matt Manry, who is confident Mt. Vernon can win another title.
“This team never gives up,” Manry said. “We always play together as a team, so I think that's the main reason we have made it this far.”