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The Chiefs left Thursday for their journey to Springfield, where they'll find an opponent similar to the ones they've already beaten.
By MIKE READLING
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 30, 2001
TAMPA -- Springfield Rutherford seems to have a really good quarterback. After all, Matt Hardin completed 60 percent of his passes and threw for 1,373 yards, 15 touchdowns and 4 interceptions during the regular season.
And yes, Rutherford also has running back Jean Bradshaw, the team leader with 11 regular-season touchdowns, 910 yards and a lofty 7.6 yards per carry average.
But perhaps the most daunting obstacle in Chamberlain's path to tonight's Class 5A state semifinal is the 400 miles it must drive to get there.
After making their longest trip of the season last week to Kissimmee, the Chiefs will load up and drive to the Panhandle, cross into the Central Time Zone and find their way to Springfield, a town just outside Panama City. The ride is expected to take 7 to 9 hours by bus. The game begins at 8:30 local time.
"That's going to hurt us a little bit," Chamberlain coach Billy Turner said. "That's a bit of a disadvantage."
Turner attempted to make the trip a little easier by leaving Tampa early Thursday morning with plans to spend the night in Tallahassee. While there, the team will tour Florida State's Doak Campbell Stadium, site of next week's state championship games, before driving to Tommy Oliver Stadium on Friday afternoon.
Turner is also trying to make the trip as comfortable as possible by taking along the Chiefs band. "It's going to cost a fortune, but it's going to be great having them behind us making a lot of noise," Turner said. "This trip is like a reward for these kids and what they've done up to this point. This is like the state championship game for us."
What Chamberlain is going to find when it finally gets to Rutherford is a team similar to those it has faced the past two weeks.
Much like Hillsborough, Chamberlain's victim in the region semifinals, and Kissimmee Osceola, which the Chiefs beat last Friday, Rutherford is going to try to control the clock by running the ball. Friday, against No. 1-ranked Gainesville Buchholz, Bradshaw and Devin Collier combined for 161 yards on the ground and Hardin completed only two passes for 35 yards.
"They are a good, solid team, but they don't look any better than Hillsborough right now," Turner said. "They're like an Osceola. It's not like they're King, which had a real quick offense and defense."
The Rams (10-2) will also bring a strong defense, having forced five turnovers last week to beat previously undefeated Buchholz 24-0.
Rutherford also is well-rounded when it comes to competitive games, having been to the state final in 1997 and 1999, and traveled to places like Houston and Tuscaloosa, Ala., this season to play regular-season games.
"The athletic director, principal and myself have all talked to the kids," Turner said. "They know the purpose of this trip. They know this is no vacation. We're going up there to win a football game."