After nearly a month away from its home field, Darlington is finally getting another chance to play in front of its home crowd.
The Tigers welcome Mount Paran Christian to Chris Hunter Stadium on Friday night for a second-round matchup in the GHSA Class A Private state playoffs.
The ninth-ranked Tigers (9-1) had a bye through the first round of the playoffs following a two-week stint on the road to close out the regular season, and Darlington head coach Tommy Atha said his team is eager to get the playoffs underway.
“There ain’t no doubt,” Atha said. “We are very excited to be back here at the Lakeside. I think it’s going to be electric. It’s going to be awesome. The kids are excited about being in the playoffs.”
Atha said his team has done their best at making the most of their time off since falling to Fellowship Christian two weeks ago in the Region 6-A championship game.
“We’ve had two good weeks of practice with a lot of enthusiasm,” Atha said. “I think we’ve taken advantage of the opportunity to heal up, go back and work on some fundamentals and still have an opportunity to get some things installed. We feel like we’re where we need to be going into this football game.”
Mount Paran (6-4) is coming off a first-round win that saw the Eagles upset Aquinas 29-27 on the road. The Eagles, who are in the opposite subregion from Darlington in Region 6-A, went on a three-game skid through the middle part of the season, but have since won three straight contests.
“They’re a big, physical football team,” Atha said. “They’re very good at what they do. What they do offensively is a little bit different. They have the ability to line up in very heavy sets and run right at you, and they have the ability to spread it out and throw it. They play a very physical style of ball, and we’ve got to execute very well.”
The Tigers are back on the gridiron for the first time since suffering their first loss of the season, and Atha said his team has been waiting for the chance to come out and compete again. Despite the 42-7 loss to Fellowship Christian, the Tigers are still only giving up 11.1 points per game to opponents, while the offense is averaging 32.5 points per game.
“The kids have been eager to get back on the field since we met in the locker room after the game two weeks ago,” Atha said.
The contest will be a homecoming for Eagles’ head coach Mitch Jordan. The longtime Mount Paran coach, in his 11th year with the Eagles, is a 1990 graduate of Darlington and was an assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for the Tigers from 2002-2008.
“We’ve been the best of friends for a long time,” Atha said. “My first year as a head coach, he was my first defensive coordinator. I hired him. He was the guy I wanted to run the defense. He did a great job, and what he’s done down at Mount Paran speaks for itself.”