One small step from Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the Mount Zion High School football team and one giant, five-hour trip down to south Georgia to make it happen.

The No. 8 Eagles will attempt to make reservations for their first-ever Class A public state championship game appearance when it travels to Homerville to meet No. 5 Clinch County in a 7:30 p.m. kickoff in the state semifinals.

This magical run through the postseason is something that the entire MZ community will never forget and head coach Brad Gordon, along with his his team, have been amped up all week to be one of the final four teams still standing.

"We're excited to be practicing this time of the year," Gordon said. "We came out really focused (on Monday) as we were installing the game plan and adding a few wrinkles."

MZ (10-2) is still buzzing over the stunning, 10-6 road upset of No. 1 Manchester in last Friday's quarterfinal matchup. Not given much of a chance to advance this far into the playoffs, the entire state has taken notice of the soaring Eagles, especially those closest to the team.

"The community couldn't be more excited," Gordon said. "There's been support coming from people I hadn't even heard from in years. They've all texted and called to congratulate us on the job we're doing. The city even invited us to come down and be Grand Marshals in the Christmas parade. Everybody is excited to be playing at this time of year."

The first-year head coach said that he owes the school's first state semifinal appearance and 10-win season to this year's batch of seniors like C.J. Ackles and Cole Helton, who have carried a chip on their shoulder with something to prove since before the 2017 campaign even kicked off.

"These seniors felt like everybody was so worried about that senior class from last year that they didn't really get a whole lot of respect, so they just keep raising the bar," Gordon said. "That's what we've wanted from our seniors, to keep stepping it up and that's what they've done."

While the Eagles enter tonight's rumble as the new team on the block, Clinch County (10-2) is no stranger to this stage.

Winning three different state championships in 1988, 1991 and 2002, the Panthers have claimed an additional three state titles since head coach Jim Dickerson took over in 2004, the most recent one coming in 2015. When Dickerson hasn't won it, he's come close with three semifinal appearances and a state championship game loss to Lincoln County in 2006.

Taking care of business within Region 2-A throughout this season, Clinch got to the semis with a 48-35 victory over Dooly County in round two and a 21-0 shutout victory over Mitchell County last week. They've been led in 2017 by a trio of future FBS standouts, including defensive end John Mincey (verbally committed to Arkansas), defensive back Charles McClelland (verbally committed to Cincinnati) and 2019 two-way player Trezman Marshall, who already has offers from Alabama, Clemson and Georgia.

Gordon described what makes this Panther ballclub dangerous.

"They're real big up front offensively and they just pound you," Gordon said. "They're relentless. It's a lot like what we saw with Mt. Paran Christian. (Marshall) is a 240-pound linebacker who also flips over and runs downhill on you. Speaking of that defense, (Mincey) is heading to Arkansas, so that should tell you what he's capable of. They are what you expect when you get to this point of the season."

But the Eagles are no slouches themselves, having given up only 12.9 points per game all season long. Gordon and his team are once again embracing the underdog role in this one and received a little extra bit of motivation to light their fire. They're hoping that's exactly what's needed to leave south Georgia with a smile on their face and a trip to Atlanta in sight.

"They've given us some bulletin-board material with that they said Friday night after their game, so once again we're going in as the underdog," Gordon said.

"We relish that role with something to prove. Clinch has been there, done that. They've been here before. We're the new ones on the block and until we get to where we want to be, people are always going to look down on us. So it's about us going out there and introduce them to who the Eagles are."

Tonight's contest will broadcast live on KISS 102.7 FM.

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