Rich McWhorter wouldn’t have predicted a state championship game appearance for Charlton County’s 2013 season, which also happened to be the senior year for his daughter Darby, a Charlton cheerleader who was in elementary school when the Indians last appeared in the Georgia Dome in the 2006 Class AA semifinals.
“She kept telling me how nice it would be to cheer in the Dome,” said McWhorter, the veteran coach with four state crowns on his resume. “I just cringed because I didn’t see it happening.”
Coming off a 5-6 season, the only losing season of his head coaching career, McWhorter saw plenty of reason to wonder how good the 2013 team would be.
“I kept looking at our schedule this year. The teams we lost to last year were all going to better. I really believed with what happened last year and what we had coming back that we could be a 1-9 team. Our motivation was to not let that happen,” he said.
The early returns were not ideal. A 49-0 loss in week 2 was the most lop-sided loss for Charlton since 1970.
“After the Ware County game the coaches told us all you can do is go up from there,” said center Jamez Davis. “The main thing we focused on was getting better from there.”
They have, and while the Indians aren’t the prospect-laden team Charlton has had in the past, they’ve worked together. McWhorter is taking a philosophical approach.
“This needs to be fun,” he said. “We need to enjoy this.”
If McWhorter wanted to manage expectations for Charlton, his opponent Mike Swaney wanted people in and around Marion County’s program to expect more.
“Five years ago when I came here, they were just talking about trying to get into a state playoff game,” Swaney said. “They’d never played in a state playoff game even when it was Tri-County. This is just a whole new experience for them. There’s nothing like football to bring a small community together.”
While the championship game has a stop-and-smell-the-roses quality for Charlton, it’s Hoosiers-esque for Marion, which has won three region titles in four years under Swaney but is making its first Georgia Dome appearance and seeking its first state title. The final is a rematch of a 2012 first-round game, which Marion won 31-12, and both teams avenged regular-season losses to get to the final.
Dating back to the Tri-County days, the Eagles had had just six winning seasons between 1976 and 2009. Now, he’s concerned about how the team will respond to playing on turf and under a roof.
Swaney, who was an assistant at Taylor County when it advanced to the semifinals in 1998 and played in the Georgia Dome, adjusted the Marion travel plans to give the team a chance to get accustomed to the environment.
“When we took Taylor up there and played Darlington, the kids were wide-eyed, looking at the jumbotron and everything else,” Swaney said. “We’ll get there in plenty of time to let them look around. Maybe I can get them to concentrate on the game.”
Information from www.ghsfha.com was used in this article.