Hebron Christian head football coach Jeff Saturday watches the action during a Lions' football game in 2018. Saturday will send his Lions back for a rematch with top-ranked Athens Academy for the second time in as many weeks Friday at Lions Stadium. This time, however, Hebron's starters will play, and the Region 8-A championship will be on the line.

On paper, it would seem to be — as Baseball Hall of Fame legend Yogi Berra once eloquently put it — deja vu all over again for Hebron Christian and Athens Academy.

But the situations won’t exactly be the same when the Lions welcome the Class A (Private) top-ranked Spartans to Lion Stadium for the second straight week in the crossover games between Region 8-A subregions Friday.

The biggest difference, of course, are the stakes, with the region championship officially being on the line for the 7:30 p.m. kickoff.

“At the beginning of the season, this is what you hope to have an opportunity to do,” Hebron coach Jeff Saturday said of his team having the chance to play for the program’s first region title. “For my kids, this is the first time they’ve played for a region championship. I told them, ‘Enjoy it. You’ve worked your tails off to give yourselves this opportunity. Don’t let that moment miss you.”

There is at least one other major difference that should set Friday’s rematch apart from last week’s first game, won by Athens Academy 27-0.

Hebron’s (6-3, 4-0) varsity staters will play, something they didn’t do last week, for a variety of reasons.

And with Athens Academy (9-0, 4-0) also having limited their starters’ action, Friday’s game figures to be a much accurate test of how the two teams match up than what amounted to a controlled scrimmage last week.

“We stuck to the plan,” Saturday said of his decision to hold out his starters last week. “We had a lot of people hurt, and we decided as a group to hold them out. Our (junior varsity) players started and finished and did a good job. Some of those guys are going to have to help us (Friday) and into the (state) playoffs, so it was a good experience for them.”

With Athens Academy having given their starters limited action, it would be tempting to think that might give the Lions a bit off a scouting advantage.

But Saturday says that scouting or no scouting, slowing down the two-time defending Class A (Private) state runner-up Spartans, particularly offensive playmakers like quarterback Palmer Bush, running back Kurt Kinsley and receiver Deion Colzie, won’t be made any easier.

“If you’re playing a team that’s been in the state championship game the last two years and is undefeated the year, it’s going to be tough,” Saturday said. “(Athens Academy) has done the same thing year in and year out. They’re an executing football team, and they try to beat you by playing sound football an outexecuting you. (Spartans coach Josh Alexander) isn’t going to change what he’s done, and we won’t either.

“”When you look at the game as a whole, we have to stop the running game. When you look at a lot of the teams we’ve played like Clinch County and Holy Innocents’ and Commerce, they’ve shown all kind of numbers when it comes to looks. Athens Academy also shows so many different motions and shifts, you’ve got to get to your gaps and you have to play fundamental defense.”

That will be a test to Hebron’s defensive playmakers like linebackers Winston Gassant, Jack Ihm and Michael Hilliard, as well as the Lions offense, led by quarterback Colten Gauthier, running back Demetrius Rogers and receiver Donnovan Moorer to play be able to protect the football and play sound possession football.

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Graduated from GSU in 1990. Have worked in sports journalism for the past 28 years, covering a variety of sports at the Gwinnett Daily News, AJC, Lafayette (La.) Daily Advertiser and Marietta Daily Journal before returning to Gwinnett at the Post in 2007.

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