As the Heard County High School football team prepares to host the biggest game in the history of Staples Stadium, Tim Barron anticipates not the perfect storm buzzing into Franklin on Friday night, but the perfect swarm.
Facing a Hapeville Charter program that has enjoyed a meteoric rise since opening its doors in 2011 upon landing a second consecutive Class AA state semifinal berth this fall, the veteran head coach understands his squad will have to be firing on all cylinders in its first-ever final four appearance to keep pace with the high-flying Hornets in the 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
Under the direction of seventh-year head coach Winston Gordon, Hapeville Charter isn't necessarily an overnight success, but it's pretty darn close to it.
Part of that process stems from demographics and having the ability to pull from a high volume of potential students, who are coincidentally tremendous athletes, and the program has pieced together a star-studded roster over the course of the past few seasons.
Featuring Division I talent across the board on both sides of the ball, the Hornets have steam-rolled their way through the Class AA bracket, including dethroning reigning state champion Benedictine last week in Savannah to snap the Cadets' 27-game win streak in a 31-17 decision that saw Hapeville Charter race out to a 21-0 lead and 28-7 halftime advantage.
Defensively, the Hornets (12-1) have allowed an incredible 88 points in 13 games — a stifling and Class AA state-best 6.7 points per game — with five shutouts, beginning the playoffs behind a 24-0 blanking of Region 5-AA No. 4 seed Spencer in the opening round.
Hapeville's lone loss on the season came at the hands of Thompson, Alabama, the No. 1 team in Class 7A across the state line. The 21-20 setback has been followed by 11 straight wins, which is exactly what Heard County (12-1) has done this season.
The Braves' only loss of the year also came in Game 2 against an Alabama program, Saraland, in a 17-14 contest.
So with neither team having dropped a decision to an opponent from the Peach State, something will have to give on Friday night.
In order for his ballclub to come out on top, Barron said it will have to string together long, clock-consuming drives and not rely on the big play against a defense that features the Region 6-AA Defensive Player of the Year in Kingsley Enagbare, a senior defensive end and South Carolina commit.
"You watch them and it's tough to get over the top of them. They just run so well. So we're going to have to be able to put together drives, eat up clock and find ways to move the chains," Barron said. "We've got to keep the chains moving because their offense is so dang good. Their defense is so good. If you look at their past eight weeks of football, what they've done defensively is unheard of. If you look at what they've done so far in the playoffs, they're a stingy defense and they get after you."
On the other side of the ball, the Hornets are led by quarterback Hajj-Malik Williams, another Division I recruit, who had a monster game last week against Benedictine.
Williams led the Hornets' balanced attack, which finished with 206 yards on the ground and 216 through the air, by completing 16-of-17 attempts in the first half for 211 yards with three touchdowns, while also rushing for 71 yards and a score. Williams attempted just two passes in the second half, as the Hapeville defense and ground game did the rest.
"They can run and throw the ball. Just like us, they're balanced," Barron said. "Their quarterback is super scary. He throws such a good ball … He was remarkable last week with his arm. In his other games when teams are putting pressure on him, it looks like he's hardly moving and he's pulling away from everybody. He is an exceptional athlete."
But in order to be the best, you're going to have to beat the best and Barron said his guys will be more than up for the task of taking down one of the most impressive collection of athletes across the state.
"From top to bottom, it will be the most talented team that's stepped on this field," Barron said.
Friday night's contest will broadcast live on B-92.1 FM.