By Rory Sharrock
It's been four long years since Mt. Zion played a meaningful football game in November. However, all of that will change on Friday night when the Bulldogs suit up their pads and helmets for their opening round playoff match at Evans High School.
Second-year head coach Jarrett Laws has turned the program around with a commitment to discipline and accountability. But this will be perhaps his most difficult challenge to date as he leads his squad against an undefeated juggernaut, which is currently ranked seventh in the latest polls.
Nevertheless, despite their lack of depth on the sidelines, an undermanned coaching staff and the county school district loosing its accreditation, Mt. Zion is still here and Laws has taken the approach of 'just keep playing' and the team fully believes in his philosophy.
"I like this because 'just keep playing' means play until the state championship.
But if you look at it, you can measure it down to a microcosm of play every down, play every second, play every moment," said Laws.
Although they face overwhelming odds, the one thing Mt. Zion has going in its favor is a rested roster.
The Bulldogs had their open date during the final week of the season, which allowed for players to rest and recover before playoffs.
"We got a couple of guys that had we played last week, they would not have played because they were banged up. We're going into this 95 percent healthy," said Laws.
This week, Mt. Zion has been working hard on fine-tuning the little things like reading keys and proper stance alignment. They've also been in meetings studying film of Evans. From their research, they see multiple reasons why the Knights have a perfect record and top-10 state ranking.
"You can see how well coached they are. They don't make mental mistakes. Even when you get a good play against them, they're going to wait for your mental breakdown.
That's why they're 10-0," said Laws.
With this in mind, Mt. Zion plans to leave no stone unturned while on the field.
The Bulldogs will rely on their 1-2 backfield combo of Quartterio Morgan and Josh King to eat up chunks of yardage.
With these backs grinding it out on the ground, this allows for wide receiver Drexel Copeland to roam freely downfield for the big play.
"We have to go into this game high and play to the best of our abilities. We have to go in like we're the top team and play our hearts out.
This is my fourth year playing football at Mt. Zion and this is our first year going to the playoffs. I'm going to play like it's my last game because if we lose it is," said Copeland.
While competing in the playoffs is a new concept for the team, offensive coordinator Jamie Aull is no stranger to this level. During his senior year, Aull was a member of the 1999 region championship team that finished 14-1 and advanced to the state championship, falling to Oconee County 17-7 on the road.
Aull is drawing off his former playoff experience and he's preaching that this current group can pull off the upset and write their own chapter in Mt. Zion's football history.
"It's hard to explain the experience of stepping on the field on a Friday night in a playoff atmosphere. I'm just excited for these kids to experience it. Our team is fairly young and this is a huge building block for them making the playoffs.
We did some really good things at Mt. Zion as a player and hopefully we can duplicate that success as a coach. Anything can happen once you get into this tournament," said Aull.