Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

COLQUITT -- Miller County coach Frank Killingsworth wouldn't change a thing from last year's run to the Class A state quarterfinals.

Though, his success sure did put this year's team in a bind.

It will be almost a year to the day on Friday when the Pirates travel to play at Savannah Christian. This is the same Savannah team Miller beat in a controversial finish last season in Colquitt to end its season.

Since that game, Savannah

hasn't lost once, defeated every regular-season opponent by double digit points and ascended to the

No. 2 spot in the Georgia Sportswriters prep poll.

And now they want revenge.

"That's who we want," said Savannah Christian coach Donald Chumley to the Savannah Morning News after his Raiders beat Irwin County, 14-10, last week. "(Miller) beat us last year and we want a rematch."

That game ended in a 20-13 victory in which the Pirates connected on a touchdown pass that was nearly incomplete in the end zone. The referees ruled the fourth-quarter TD a catch, but a photo later surfaced from the Savannah Christian side that appeared to show the ball touching the ground, according to Killingsworth.

The loss ended a nine-game win streak for the Raiders, whose only other loss came to state runner-up Emmanuel County Institute.

"We're still glad we lit that fire last year," Killingsworth said. "We know they have been waiting to play us for about 365 days. I think they think they got kind of ripped off."

The Raiders have the potential to avoid any referee interference this season. Fullback Chris Barnwell is back and grinding down opponents in the wing-T offense. Last week against Irwin County, he carried 34 times for 188 yards.

He's the main cog of an attack that features a number of other weapons that all play off his lead.

"Barnwell hits it in there hard on their option," Killingsworth said. "The offensive line comes about 18 inches off the ground and gets after you. They work two quarterbacks that are almost identical, their like twins. The halfback has good speed. They have skilled wideouts."

Savannah represents the opposite end of the Class A spectrum from first-round opponent Brookstone. Miller had to deal with Brookstone's open passing attack in the first round and face the mental challenges of reading keys against a complex offense.

Savannah, meanwhile, keeps few secrets. It's a battle of physical force up front. And one the Raiders haven't lost all season.

"Savannah, when the ball is snapped, you know exactly what is going on, it is you against them, mono y mono," Killingsworth said. "I prefer the physical game. We like physical football."

That style was playing into the Pirates' hands through the first seven games of the year when the Miller County defense allowed more than eight points in a game only once.

Since then, however, it is allowing 21.8 points a game. That includes giving up 21 second-half points to Brookstone last week.

"You come out and you lose focus," said Killingsworth, who reached the second round of the playoffs for the third consecutive season. "We're up, 27-6, at halftime of Brookstone game and we come out and lose a little focus. When we lose focus, you get a 60-something yard touchdown catch and a 50-something yard touchdown catch. That's the stuff that's happened the past few weeks."

Luckily a resurgence of the Pirates' offense behind Shawndre Sheffield, who ran for three touchdowns in the first-round win, and quarterback Caleb Cunningham have helped Miller County keep pace.

This week, they will also have to account for the revenge factor driving the No. 2 team in the state. But no matter the motivation, at this level, Killingsworth knows any opponent would require the team's best effort of the year.

"Every (team) is good now," he said. "There are only 16 of us left. There are no pushovers."