Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

ALBANY -- Repeat these words, slowly:

It's not the state championship. It's not the state championship. It's not the state championship.

Now that that's out of the way, maybe Deerfield-Windsor and Mount de Sales can get on with tonight's GISA Class AAA state semifinal game at Webb Memorial Stadium.

"Everybody in Macon is talking about this game, and everybody in Albany is talking about this game,'' DWS quarterback Banks Kinslow said. "We know it's not the state championship no matter what everyone is saying. But we know to get to next week and the state championship that we have to play every play like it is our last.''

It's a classic showdown between the state's best offense and the state's best defense, and it's a game just about everyone in GISA has been looking forward to all season.

Get there early.

"The atmosphere is really going to be great,'' Kinslow said. "It doesn't get any better than this. They're good. We're good. That makes for an awesome atmosphere.''

The kids at DWS started talking about Mount de Sales minutes after they beat Griffin Christian Academy, 32-13, in the opening round of the playoffs last week.

"Yeah, we were talking about it after the game,'' said DWS linebacker Rhett Cooper. "A lot of people are saying this is the unofficial state championship, but it isn't at all. You can't get ahead of yourself. We know this is a big game, and everybody is talking about their offense against our defense. After the Griffin game, this game is all that mattered to us.

"They're a great team, and we're excited. I think we've been ready to play this game all week,'' he said. "This is really a big test for our defense. This will tell us a lot about ourselves.''

The kids who play defense at Deerfield have been incredible all year, allowing fewer than seven points a game while being the anchor of an 11-0 season. No Deerfield team has ever gone 12-0, not even the two teams that won state titles.

It's been a magical ride, and one that's been built on a bond that goes beyond football among a close-knit group of players who have all contributed.

Sure, there are stars on this Deerfield team, but it seems just about everyone has stepped up and made a big play along the way.

Now the Knights face a team that is bigger and faster with the kind of speed where one step may mean a touchdown. Mont de Sales (10-1) not only scores in bunches, but no one scores on big plays like the Cavaliers, who have scored 48 points or more in nine games this season. They slowed down last week, beating Bulloch only 45-23.

"We can't give them big plays,'' Deerfield coach Allen Lowe said on Thursday. "They had some games where they ran 30 offensive plays and scored six or seven touchdowns. We've got to move the ball and put points on the board when we get in the red zone. The defense has to keep them from the big play. The key is to make them earn it, and not give up a big play to them.''

All you have to do is look at Mount de Sales' two running backs to get an idea of how explosive this offense is. The Swain Brothers -- Chris and Myles -- have combined to gain 2,003 yards and score 32 touchdowns. But that's not the dangerous stat. Chris, a 6-foot, 220-pound senior fullback, is averaging 15.6 yards per carry. Myles, a 5-11, 190-pound junior tailback, averages 13.59 yards when he touches the ball.

So how do you stop that big play capability?

"We have to trust each other,'' Cooper said. "We have to trust that everyone will do their job, and don't go over to help someone. If you do it may give them a chance to bust a big play.''

That may be the deciding factor tonight.

Kinslow, who has been on Deerfield's last two state finalist teams, said this team is closer and has more chemistry than any team he has ever been a part of -- and trust comes along with that.

"We have to play the best game we've played all season,'' said Walker Lanier, who might just be the smallest defensive end in GISA. ''Everybody needs to play their best. We just have to play as a team and stay focused.''

That's been the blueprint all year and it's worked better than anyone could have imagined. Lowe has platooned sets of players on the offensive line -- the Thunder and Lightning corps -- and has shuffled players on defense to keep fresh legs. It has been an all-for-one, one-for-all run to get here.

But while everyone talks about the classic showdown, it's almost as if the DWS offense has been forgotten. Kinslow has set several school records at quarterback and has thrown for 1,137 yards and 19 touchdowns. Michael Laslie has been one of the top receivers in the state, catching 21 passes for 451 yards and five TDs. Lanier has caught 10 for 182, including a 35-yard TD pass last week, and Gaughf Ivey has caught six for 110 yards and three TDs.

The Knights can run, too. No one thought they could replace Tony Zenon, and they haven't, but Davis Moore and Quentin Heard have given Lowe a 1-2 punch in the backfield that's hard to argue with, and even harder to tackle.

Moore, who missed two games with a hip injury, has gained 974 yards on 118 carries and scored 11 TDs, and Heard has gained 824 yards on 104 carries and rushed for seven touchdowns. Moore also has caught 13 passes for 140 yards, and Heard has 12 receptions for 125 yards and four touchdowns.

It's a formidable offense.

But will it be enough tonight?

"They scare you,'' Lowe said of Mount de Sales' big play capability. "It's going to be a great game. These are the kind of games you forward to playing.

"We just have to find a way to outlast them.''