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Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / Meigs County junior Malachi Hayden and the rest of the Tigers' offensive line have been a stout group this season.
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Class 2A state final

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DECATUR, Tenn. — The Meigs County offensive line takes blocking personally.

Driving their feet and looking to barrel over defenders, the Tigers linemen know how important winning the war in the trenches is as they stand 48 minutes of action away from a trip to Cookeville for the Class 2A state championship game.

With the town painted black and orange around them, junior offensive lineman Malachi Hayden and company look to pave the way to victory over Trousdale County (12-1) at 7 tonight at Jewell Field.

"We have to play each snap like it's our last and fight until the whistle sounds," said the 6-foot-2, 280-pound Hayden, who starts at left tackle. "We have to win the battle up front for all four quarters. Our offensive line has been rolling this year. We all have the same mindset that no one touches our quarterback or running back."

Running lanes have abounded for Meigs County (12-1), which has rushed for 55 touchdowns and 325 yards per game, which included 495 yards on the ground in last week's 49-21 quarterfinal victory over Oneida.

Mr. Football finalist Aaron Swafford, the quarterback, is just 19 yards away from eclipsing 2,000 rushing yards, while the Navy signee has 38 total touchdowns and 3,016 total yards. Will Meadows (1,113 rush yards, 10 TDs) and Jackson Fritz (9 yards per carry, 8 TDs) are very capable runners, too.

With pancake blocks left and right from a powerful group that also sprints with its runners downfield to provide cut-back lanes, their work in the weightroom has paid off. Hayden, senior left guard Chris Wood and three-year starting center Gage Gardner all are in the 1,000-pound club, which combines their bench press, squat and hang clean max.

"We came into the season with three new starters up front and wondered how it would work," Tigers coach Jason Fitzgerald said. "They have done a heck of a job and meshed together. Malachi and Chris on the left side don't like to just block you — they like to get on you and finish you."

Meigs County has taken a laser-focus approach at practice this week.

Facing the same Trousdale team that beat them 32-29 in a semifinal last season in Hartsville, the Tigers seek to have a different outcome at home.

"We are going to work just like we regularly do," Hayden said. "We want to be in Cookeville next week. I think it will really help us with our fans all behind our back cheering us on Friday night. We have to earn our way to the championship game, and that starts by winning in the trenches."

With its only trips to the state finals coming in 1980 and 1995, Meigs County will stick to its bread and butter. Running the ball with authority and holding opponents to 164 yards and eight points per game have carried the Tigers, who have prepared themselves for this moment with tough tests against Greenback and South Pittsburg this season.

"We have the guys to carry the ball, and it's the guys up front who make it right. Sometimes we make this game a little too hard, but if you win the battle up front most of the time you are going to win the football game," Fitzgerald said. "We are here in the semifinals for a reason. It's going to be a big night in Decatur."

Contact Patrick MacCoon at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.

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