Clayton Geathers' return for Carvers Bay opens a bag of mixed emotions for Hemingway coach Ken Cribb.
"He's a heck of a player," Cribb said before tonight's second-round, Class A playoff game. "He's a [NCAA Division-I] player. ... He only makes them better, but he's only one man. Hopefully one can't beat 11."
The Hemingway-Carvers Bay rivalry is certainly bigger than just one player, even one with of the namesake of several top prospects to come out of the area in recent years. But there's little doubt Geathers' return makes the Bears a different team than the squad that fell 7-6 to Hemingway during the regular season.
After missing the first eight games of the season after injuring his ankle in a preseason car crash, Geathers has amassed 465 yards rushing and another 57 through the air en route to six touchdowns in the past three games.
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And although he isn't expected to play defense - where he might have made his biggest impact this season - having Geathers on the field means the Tigers have their work even more cut out for them. At least one Bear player, running back/defensive back Davious Chestnut, said he believes having Geathers during the first meeting between the two teams this season could have led to a different outcome.
"He's just one more weapon on offense. We've got some plays on offense that include him," Chestnut said. "I wonder what would have happened. He would have made a big difference."
The scenario of an in-season, Carvers Bay-Hemingway rematch is nothing new. Just last season, the Tigers won during the regular season, only to see Carvers Bay beat them in the playoffs and advance to their third straight Lower State title and earn an appearance in the Class A state championship game.
If the Bears to make it to the Lower State title game again this season, it will again have to come at the expense of Hemingway.
"One good thing about it is it's Hemmingway," Carvers Bay coach Nate Thompson said. "It's not that hard to get them up for that type of game. In our kids' eyes, they get a second chance at it. When you get second chance at it, you don't let it go."
Hemingway preventing Carvers Bay from taking advantage of that second chance won't be as easy as simply focusing on Geathers.
In his absence, Chestnut proved he could carry the load on both sides of the ball. Heading into tonight's game, he has already racked up 1,050 yards on the ground, 18 total offensive TDs and a defensive TD.
Thompson said Chestnut has proved he is a "lockdown corner" capable of silencing opposing teams' top weapons.
It's one of the reasons Geathers and Chestnut each received offers from Central Florida earlier this year. The two close friends have given the Knights non-binding verbal commitments. However, until signing day, both players admitted anything could happen.
"It can go any way," said Geathers, who prior to the car crash was rated as one of the top prospects in the area. "I'm just waiting. There's no one [else] looking at me."
Thompson believes more offers will roll in once the season is over. But everyone involved with the Bears hopes that doesn't mean this weekend.
A victory tonight would push Carvers Bay back to another Lower State title game and keep its chances of a fourth consecutive state championship appearance alive.
It would also mean another postseason win over their rival.
"The team is just focused," Geathers said. "And we're ready to get back and get some revenge and show we're the best in the area."