CLAXTON — As football season began back in August the goal was clear for the Claxton Tigers.
The 2014 season was all about a return trip to the state playoffs.
From 2008-2012, the Tigers easily qualified as one of the most heartbroken — or snake-bit — teams in all of Georgia. During the first four years of that span, Claxton dropped a region play-in game in the final week of the season to leave them one victory shy of the state playoffs.
With the advent of the Class A power poll in 2012, the Tigers finished just a few tenths of a point shy of qualifying for the playoff field.
Last year finally broke that streak. This season, the Tigers are 6-1 — sit at No. 8 in the latest power poll — and are charging full speed at attaining that preseason goal.
“We have a very solid group of seniors and juniors,” first year Claxton head coach Rodrick Williams said. “They were a part of that team that got over the hump last season. They know what we have to do to get back.”
Williams was also a part of that squad. While in his first season at the helm of the Tigers, Williams previously served as the defensive coordinator.
While the defense has allowed its share of points this season, the Tigers have also come up with big stands and turnovers when necessary.
Four-year starting linebacker Marty Chapel and brothers Darnell and Darrell Williams have combined to stop some potent opposing offenses.
On the other side of the ball, the Tigers have been nothing short of electrifying.
Zach Grant — fresh off of a stint with Statesboro High last season — has returned to lead the way for the school he began his career with. The senior running back has racked up 1,163 yards and has found the end zone 11 times, including a 311-yard, three touchdown performance in the Tigers’ comeback win over Savannah Country Day last week.
Far from a one-man show, Claxton features plenty of other offensive threats.
Senior quarterback Cornelius Taylor is the reigning Region 3-A Offensive Player of the Year and has looked the part in resuming his role as a dual-threat from behind center.
On the edges, Darvis Small and Edgar Duran have helped to spread opposing defenses, creating plenty of passing and running lanes.
“It’s great to have so much talent to work with,” Roderick Williams said. “The biggest thing is that all of these guys have experience playing together. We’re comfortable with what we’re doing and it makes the offense run smoothly.”
Both the offense and defensive units will have to be running at full speed Friday as the Tigers pay a visit to Calvary Day — ranked second in the private school power poll.
While the two schools are aiming for separate state championships at the end of the season, the weight of a win or a loss will have a big impact on the road each will have to take once the playoffs begin.
“I think all of our guys know about where we stand in the rankings,” Williams said. “But we still need to focus on the game that’s right in front of us.
“This has been such a great season so far. Our players, our fans and our administration are all buying in and supporting us. We just want to keep the focus on each week and see where we can go.”
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.