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The football coaching staff at Geraldine High and Sylvania High watched film of the opposition this week, because that’s what you’re supposed to do. They studied personnel and charted tendencies, because, once again, that’s what you’re supposed to do.

Truth is, though, they didn’t really have to do that. Geraldine knows Sylvania. Sylvania knows Geraldine. There shouldn’t be many surprises when the two meet in the Class 3A quarterfinals on Friday night at Sylvania.

The high schools in Geraldine and Sylvania sit about 20 miles apart. They’ve met 66 times on the football field, the first coming in 1947 and most recently coming on September 16 when Sylvania beat Geraldine, 41-24, in a Region 6 game. Sylvania leads the series, 32-31, and there have been four ties. This will be the first time that they’ve played each other in a playoff game, according to records compiled by the Alabama High School Football Historical Society.

“Oh, it’s awesome,” said Geraldine head coach Michael Davis, a former player at the school. “It’s a team that we’re all very familiar with and they’re very familiar with us. Our kids know each other. We are very similar communities, very close. We’re roughly 30 minutes apart, a lot of parents work together, kids go to church together.”

It wouldn’t be hard to make a case for the argument that this is one of the more surprising quarterfinal matchups in the AHSAA playoffs. Without the benefit of hindsight, most people probably thought that Mars Hill and Madison Academy would advance past last week’s second-round games. Mars Hill entered the playoffs as the No. 1 team in Class 3A. Madison Academy, despite being young, had reeled off nine consecutive victories with none of them coming by less than 21 points.

In the playoffs, though, seedings and records mean little. Performing on that night is what it’s all about.

Geraldine, the No. 3 team from the region behind Piedmont and Sylvania, entered last Friday’s game against visiting Mars Hill, fresh off a first-round upset of a 9-1 Winfield team.

“They were really focused and locked in,” Davis said of his team. “We were playing with a lot of momentum and confidence behind us. Our guys have been doubted before. We were, obviously, the underdog the first and second round. Getting that first win in the first round against a very good Winfield team, gave the guys confidence going into the second round.”

Confidence was mixed with reality.

“They were very realistic,” Davis said. “They knew they would have to play well and we couldn’t beat ourselves with turnovers and things like that. They did what we needed to do, as far as controlling what we could control. It really paid dividends going down the stretch.”

Geraldine trailed early, built a three-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, extended it to 10 points on a touchdown run by Carlos Mann late in the fourth quarter, and held on for the 17-14 victory over Mars Hill.

At the same time, Sylvania was locked up in an emotional game at Madison Academy. The Rams fell into a 14-point halftime hole. This is a Sylvania team, though, that is accustomed to adverse situations.

“We’ve faced a lot of adversity throughout the year, faced a lot of injuries,” said Sylvania head coach Tyler Vann. “We’ve had 10 different starters that missed at least a game. Next man up and they just keep fighting.”

It also helped that, in addition to a difficult region schedule, Vann scheduled a game with 2A power Fyffe in the final week of the regular season.

“We’re not going to play a more physical team than the one we saw week 10,” Vann said. “Fyffe is a really good football program. When me and Coach Benefield scheduled it, I knew it would help us, I was hoping it would help him. We played them really good for three quarters. We shot ourselves in the foot, gave them some short fields in the fourth quarter. But they are a really good team.”

Sylvania rushed for more than 300 yards in each of its two playoff victories. This past Friday, that was a big key in digging out of the 14-point hole at Madison Academy. Running back Braiden Thomas had nearly 260 yards rushing with five touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime, and Aiden Parham also rushed for more than 100 yards.

Overall, it was a team effort. Josh Scott had the game-tying touchdown catch and the overtime-forcing interception in the end zone at the end of regulation.

“That’s why I love football, I think it teaches you a lot about life,” Vann said. “You get hit in the mouth, you have a choice to make. Things happen in your life, you have a choice to make. One of the choices is to get back up, keep on fighting and keep on going. Our guys just kept fighting. They never quit.”

Davis said the fact that both rivals came up with upset wins on the same night made it even more special.

“We both, Geraldine and Sylvania, we just have blue-collar kids,” Davis said. “They play for each other, they play for their community, they play extremely hard, very selfless kids. They’re not trying to pad their stats, they just want to do whatever it takes to win for their brothers. When you have two teams like that, they always have a chance because you know they’re going to play extremely hard. Two teams like that, playing in the third round, it’s going to be an awesome experience.

As usual, Geraldine will look to quarterback Jaxon Colvin, running backs Mann and Caleb Hall, wide receiver Cody Satterfield and defensive end Joseph Garcia to lead the way. Vann said a big key for his Sylvania team is finding a way to minimize Garcia’s success on defense. Linemen Ashdon Silver and Ky Shankles have played a big role on both sides for Sylvania. Vann said he thinks Silver is the best defensive lineman in the region.

“We expect a really good atmosphere, a playoff atmosphere,” Davis said. “Sand Mountain and a lot of Dekalb County should be there. That’s why we do it. It’s going to be cold, but that doesn’t really bother anybody on Sand Mountain. That’s all we live for on Sand Mountain this time of year is football.”

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819news.com.

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