It hasn't necessarily been an identical run to Game 14 for the Heard County High School football team and its Class AA state semifinal combatant Hapeville Charter, but it's been an eerily similar path to reach this point.
And something will have to give at 7:30 this evening when the Braves serve host to the fellow top-seeded Hornets at Staples Stadium for the right to move on to the Class AA state championship game on Saturday, Dec. 9, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
Each team ran the table in their respective regions to earn league titles and No. 1 seeds and both are riding 11-game win streaks into the fourth round of the state playoffs. Each ballclub suffered their lone loss at the hands of an Alabama power from a much higher classification — both in Game 2 — with the Braves (12-1) falling to Class 6A Saraland in a 17-14 contest on Aug. 26 and the Hornets (12-1) dropping a 21-20 decision to Class 7A Thompson on Aug. 25.
Both the Hornets and Braves feature plenty of firepower on both sides of the ball and each program is seeking a first-ever berth in Game 15.
And over the course of 48 minutes tonight in Franklin, one team will ultimately reach that desired destination.
Despite all the hype and excitement for the matchup, it's been business as usual for veteran Heard County head coach Tim Barron and his crew this week.
"The energy level is up a little bit compared to what it was last week. They understand the challenge they've got in front of them. The kids, they watch a lot of film. So they know and understand how talented this group coming in is," Barron said. "They're super, super talented."
The Hornets, who are making their second straight semifinal appearance, are coming off a 31-17 quarterfinal win at defending state champion Benedictine last week, where senior signal-caller Hajj-Malik Williams, who has thrown for 2,239 yards on the season, lit up the Cadet defense in the first half to the tune of 16-of-17 completions for 211 yards and three touchdowns to go along with 71 rushing yards and another score.
The Hapeville defense, which hasn't allowed more than 22 points in a game this season, is jam-packed with tremendous talent, led by senior defensive end and South Carolina commit Kingsley Enagbare, while defensive back Chris Smith is committed to Georgia. Additionally, defensive lineman Caleb Kelley, linebacker Zyon Bagley and defensive back Malik Fleming were also first-team all-region selections.
Along with their own slew of proven play-makers, blue-collar grunts in the trenches and a veteran coaching staff, the other major factor working in the Braves' favor tonight will be a raucous crowd filing into Staples Stadium early and often in hopes of energizing an upset and trip to the state championship.
Barron expects his ballclub to feed off that electricity, even more so when it faces adversity throughout the 48-minute melee.
"We're going to need all the help we can get from the crowd. We're going to need energy because when you're playing somebody that good, you can play a perfect ballgame and they're still going to get you because they're really good," Barron said. "We've got to keep our heads up and just keep battling and keep fighting. When we think we're tired, we need to draw from that crowd. We need them to be there not so much when things are great, but we need them when we're in a battle, we're in a struggle. We need that energy."
And while the Heard head man knows the Franklin faithful will come out in droves, he's also hopeful of garnering the support of the surrounding communities to show some love for the west Georgia area.
"We're the only game playing close. I'd love to see every Carroll County fan, Troup County fans, Coweta County. All of them. I'd love to draw a big crowd for them to come out and support not just Heard County, but west Georgia football," Barron said.
With the winner moving on to face the No. 2 Brooks County/No. 1 Rabun County victor in the state championship game next week, the Braves truly believe they are a team of destiny, even if they are big underdogs tonight.
"They know and understand the challenge in front of them. They know what Hapeville Charter's about to bring down here. But that doesn't change what their goal's going to be," Barron said. "Their goal is to find a way — somehow, someway — to upset a really good football team and to move on to the next one."
Tonight's contest will broadcast live on B-92.1 FM.