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Jonathan Schaffer (15) of Andrew Jackson Academy holds onto Clarendon Hall quarterback Dylan Way while making a tackle during a Friday, Nov. 10 SCISA 8-man football playoff game in Ehrhardt. AJA won by a 30-24 score.

Most high school football programs talk of winning a state championship every season.

Some build up and win a title when they finally have a season with experienced players who form a strong team nucleus that is bolstered by a few athletic young players who come up from the junior varsity.

Andrew Jackson Academy is taking it all a step further, playing for the program's third straight state title on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Calhoun Academy.

Only the team from nearby rival Jefferson Davis Academy stands in the way of the Confederates making more history.

The Raiders from Blackville are 10-3, with one of their losses coming back in August in a 26-6 game at AJA.

But AJA is 10-0 this season and riding the state's longest win streak -- currently at 36 games -- after this past Friday's 30-24 home playoff win against Clarendon Hall.

It is 8-man football, with the SCISA Division II championship on the line, in the first playoff game this year for AJA away from Hallman Sease Field.

Of the 23 rostered players for AJA, 13 are in the ninth grade or younger and are getting their first opportunity to make their mark on the football tradition established at their school in Ehrhardt.

Led by the only two returning senior starters from the 2016 title team, Jordan Lee and Bailey Ackerman, the 2017 team has won some closely-contested games recently, without having a loss post on the record.

Limited scoring in the second half of games late in the season has been a problem the Confederates have tried to address. Fortunately, a stingy defense has slowed opposing offenses enough to advance AJA back to the state title contest.

After back-to-back championships in 2015 and 2016, six-time state title coach Allen Sitterle retired from coaching for a second time. But longtime Lowcountry coach Willie Craven stepped in and has since led the team from the sideline, along with assistant coaches Dale Looper and Job Mathias.

"We've got to play the second half of games like we do the first half, and we've been stressing that," Craven said. "It's easier to get teams (pumped) up to play a team if they've already beat you. You can motivate a team that way.

"We know JDA is going to be a battle. And we know you can't have a battle if there isn't a fight in both sides, so we like that. At least we are there to the state championship (game) and we plan to play our best."

Craven and his staff know they have to expect the unexpected, since teams are focused on upsetting AJA on a big stage. The Clarendon Hall game this past week was the first time the Confederates have punted the ball in more than two full seasons. They struggled with the punt game, having not experienced it at game speed in years.

"I expect JDA to come at us real good," Craven said. "They're tough, they've got about everybody back from injuries, they've changed their formations some, and we're just going to have to stop them.

"They could be better now. I feel like we can play with anybody if we play our best; but our worst enemy is ourselves and the penalties and turnovers we create. Getting to 10-0 is great and our guys have great attitudes."

Craven believes this team had to adjust to more, with his coaching style coming in to lead the way this season.

"I think we put pressure on them, as new coaches and them getting used to us, changing the offense and the defense some," he said. "We weren't there in the spring with them, and we came in just in the preseason, so I think that hurt these kids some.

"But now, there's no excuses. We've won, they've accepted it and they are getting better at it."

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