GARNER — How’s this for consistency? Garner played the same opponent during its memorable 2011 season in 13 of the 14 weeks of the 2012 season. That streak extends to 14 of 15 with Friday night’s rematch with Fayetteville Britt in the 4AA eastern regional football championship.
Yes, much of that streak is due to the fact that the Trojans (and everyone else in the state of North Carolina) are in the second year of the two-year non-conference game scheduling rotation, and conference week-by-week schedules rarely change once they are set in place.
The playoff scheduling is where the rarity comes in with Garner having faced three teams this postseason that it did during its 2011 postseason – Athens Drive, Leesville Road and now Britt – during the current playoffs.
Win or lose, that streak will end with either Matthews Butler or Charlotte Mallard Creek and not 2011 finalist Greensboro Page awaiting the eastern champion in the state finals on Dec. 1 at UNC-Chapel Hill.
As much as another 14-0 record speaks to Garner’s achievement and talent as a team, the fact that the Trojans have done it so similarly against the same schedule is just as impressive.
Garner’s scoring average through 14 games in 2012 is 47.1, nearly the same as its 47.3 average a year ago. Defensively, they’re not too far off their previous pace, giving up 16.8 this season to 14.8 a season ago.
Veteran coach Nelson Smith and the rest of the veteran Trojan coaching staff have been through plenty of successful seasons but few like this one with back-to-back 14-0 runs. In October during the post-practice breakdown on a typical Wednesday, Smith told his players, “You’re getting juicy. I see a lot of you who are juicy right now.”
He paused giving the phrase a chance to sink in and his players a moment to try and figure out just what he meant. Then he dropped the catch phrase on them.
“You’re juicy,” Smith said. “Ripe for the picking.”
A week later, “juicy” became one of the rallying cries for the Trojans, many of whom have been driven by visions of a redemptive performance on the state championship stage all season. Soon, the players-only post-practice huddle was wrapped up with “juicy” replacing “Trojans” in the “1-2-3 – Trojans!” chant.
Boredom, for lack of a more glamorous term, is the enemy of any successful team from season-to-season. Garner has looked far from bored this season.
Certainly, no team is going to look bored in the playoffs. But Garner seems to thrive more than other teams on the challenge of stepping up to another level every week.
Through 14 weeks, the Trojans have always had that higher gear available – a gear none of their opponents have possessed so far. It showed up in the final minutes of the first half as they started to blow away Wakefield. It showed up again last week when Leesville Road closed to within a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
It will need to show up again Friday night against a Britt team just as motivated as Garner by what could have been last year – after a regional championship game loss to Garner.
Friday, Garner’s fate will come down to yet another litmus test – are they ripe to fall or ready for another victory?
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