DECATUR, Tenn. — Meigs County standout Aaron Swafford understands the magnitude of his last high school football game.
Only perfect Peabody (14-0) stands in the way of the Tigers (13-1) — who have been runners-up twice but never won a state championship in football — completing a dream season at Saturday's Class 2A BlueCross Bowl in Cookeville.
Kickoff at Tennessee Tech's Tucker Stadium is set for noon EST Saturday, and Meigs County, with an enrollment close to 500, had sold 1,000 advance tickets as of Friday morning. The game will be televised in the Chattanooga area on WFLI-CW, and a nice touch of orange and black is sure to be visible in the crowd as the Tigers go for the gold ball on the championship trophy.
"This is what high school football is about," said Swafford, a quarterback and defensive back who has committed to Navy. "This is what we have worked for however long we have played. I am going to tell my teammates, 'Go look at that crowd out there and that's who you are playing for. You are playing for this community and not yourself. We are trying to go down in history.'"
No one on the roster had been born the last time Meigs County played for a state title, with the Tigers losing 30-13 to Goodpasture in the 2A final in 1995. Meigs County lost 20-6 to Lake County in the Class A title game in 1980.
However, a senior class of more than 20 that includes halfback and blocking tight end Jackson Fritts will try to secure the breakthrough victory, which was set up by the Tigers' seventh straight win, 22-20 last week at home against Trousdale County.
"Making it to the last game of the season means everything to us," Fritts said. "We are going to soak it all in. It's a big game but just another game to play for us. All of us are going to leave it all on the line and try to help bring a state championship back home."
Meigs County and Peabody have a combined 94 wins dating back to the 2016 season, and each had a Class 2A Mr. Football finalist this year, with the Golden Tide's Cooper Baugus announced as the winner Monday at the Tennessee Titans' Nissan Stadium. Swafford, who won the award in 2018, and Terry Wilkins of Fairley — which lost 29-28 to Peabody in the quarterfinals — were the other finalists.
The Tide will try to repeat as champions after beating Trousdale County 17-9 in last year's Class 2A BlueCrossBowl, and Baugus leads a potent and speedy spread offense. He has completed 89 of 131 passes for 1,557 yards, 23 touchdowns and five interceptions, and he has rushed for 542 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Meigs County's secondary will have to keep close tabs on Noah Halbrook and Eli Hammonds, each with nine touchdown catches this season. Halbrook, who typically lines up in the slot, has 35 catches for 774 yards (22.1 per reception) plus 58 rushes for 561 yards and seven touchdowns.
"Cooper is a good player and uses his weapons well," said Swafford, a four-year starter with a 49-5 record. "Their slot receiver, they say, runs a 4.4 40-yard dash. We are going to try and slow them down and win the battle in the trenches. To play in this game is an amazing opportunity, and we are ready to play one more week of good football."
Peabody has per-game averages of 43.2 points scored and 7.4 points allowed, with the defense led by Rafe Hannah (seven sacks), Logan Whittemore (109 tackles) and Demarkus Kee and Carson Vandiver, who have combined for 10 interceptions and four defensive scores.
Meigs County has outscored its opponents by an average of 38.6-8.9. Swafford has accounted for 41 touchdowns (29 rushing) and averages 230 yards per game, and he also leads the team with four interceptions.
A showdown of two talented running backs will feature the Tigers' Will Meadows (1,653 all-purpose yards, 14 touchdowns) and the Tide's Jarel Dickson (1,346 total yards, 19 touchdowns).
Meigs County has averaged 311 rushing yards per game and intends to remain true to that identity of a fierce ground attack as it tries to join Division II-AAA champion McCallie, which beat Montgomery Bell Academy 28-7 on Thursday night, as the second area school to win a football state title in 2019.
"I am looking to get what I can and put my head down and fight for every yard," said Meadows, a junior whose father was a running back for the Tigers in the 1990s. "This senior class has set an example and set the bar high. It's unreal we are here now, but it's what we have worked for all our lives."