By now, M.L. King players have forgotten about their come-from-behind 50-49 win over Stephenson in the final game of the regular season Nov. 4.
At least, Lions coach Mike Carson hope they’ve erased it from their memory.
M.L. King, just a few days removed from clinching the Region 2-AAAAA regular-season title, has spent the week preparing for a home game against Coffee on Nov. 11 in the first round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs.
“It took a lot out of us,” Carson said. “We had to deal with so much adversity and it was such an emotional game. But we’ll have to be ready.”
The Lions are one of eight teams in DeKalb County that qualified for the state football playoffs that begin Nov. 11. Stephenson hosts Lowndes on Nov. 12, 7:30 p.m., at Hallford Stadium.
In Class AAAA, Southwest DeKalb (8-2) plays at East Paulding (9-1), Tucker (10-0) faces Sprayberry (5-5) at Adams Stadium and Kell (8-2) plays at Marist (9-1) on Nov. 11.
In Class AAA, Shaw (5-5) plays at St. Pius (10-0) and Columbia (6-4) plays at Carrollton (9-1) on Nov. 12. Cedar Grove (7-3) plays at Troup County (8-2) on Nov. 12.
M.L. King and Stephenson will have to overcome emotional and physical fatigue to be ready for the playoffs. The Lions trailed 36-12, then 43-26 in the second half before scoring three unanswered touchdowns to take a 44-43 lead.
Stephenson, however, scored in the final minute to take a 49-44 lead before the Lions’ Blake Tibbs returned the ensuing kickoff 82 yards for the winning score.
“This is like a whole new season,” Tibbs said about the playoffs. “We’re going to state to try to win state.”
This will be the Lions’ ninth straight trip to the state playoffs, and they have lost in the first round only once. Stephenson has qualified 12 straight seasons, but failed to make it past the first round three of the past four years.
“Maybe this win [against Stephenson] will give us the foundation for winning a state championship,” said Lions’ quarterback Jonquel Dawson, who threw six touchdown passes against the Jaguars. “We’re in the state playoffs, so there’s no excuses.”
While most of the DeKalb teams in the playoffs are used to the postseason pressure, Columbia is making its first appearance since 2005 and the second since 1997.
“We’ve been trying to change the culture and the expectations here,” said coach Mario Allen, in his third season at the school. “Now expectations skyrocket. Now that they’ve had a taste of the playoffs, anything less than going to the playoffs is going to be a failure.”
Tucker, meanwhile will try to continue its postseason success under coach Franklin Stephens. The Tigers finished 10-0 for the third time in the past five seasons, advanced to the state semifinals last year and won a state championship in 2008.
“We want the kids to understand the sense of urgency and know the magnitude of what’s going on,” Stephens said. “It’s one game at a time and if you lose it’s over.”