PINE BELT (WDAM) - Taylorsville and North Forrest high schools both have progressed further into the Class 2A football playoffs than either did last year.
But that doesn't mean either is ready to stop now.
One team will continue its journey after the two teams meet at 7 p.m. Friday in Eatonville in a South State Class 2A semifinal game.
"We've emphasized all week, 'Hey, you've come this far, you've come this close, let's not have a letdown,'" Taylorsville coach Chuck Robertson said.
The Tartars (12-1), champions of Region 5-2A and the number one seed from the region's four playoff teams, were knocked out of the 2016 playoffs after an opening-round loss.
This year, Taylorsville had no issues in the first round, rolling past Bogue Chitto 47-7 two weeks ago and then avenged their only loss of the season with a hard-fought, 24-19 victory over Perry Central High School in a second-round game last week.
Robertson said he has some concerns coming off last week's victory.
"You don't want to come out flat," Robertson said. "It's going to be difficult, though. I don't want to say I'm fearful because I'm not scared of it, but there's going to be a letdown because of the emotional win.
"But our kids know what they have here."
As do the Eagles (9-4), who came from the No. 3 seed out of Region 8-2A to win 50-30 at Mize High School in the first round before taking down Enterprise (Clarke) High School 50-42 in Eatonville last Friday.
"One of the things we talked about at the beginning of the season was getting farther than last year, which we did last week," North Forrest coach Anthony Dillon said. "Now, here we are in the third round, and going to be facing a very talented team.
"But our guys are ready and up for another challenge."
Taylorsville and North Forrest both present defensive challenges, in large part, because of the play of their leader behind the center.
The Tartars are led by freshman Ty Keyes, who threw for three touchdowns and ran for another in the win over the Bulldogs.
On the year, the prolific Keyes has thrown for 3,622 yards and 35 touchdowns with seven interceptions. He also had run for 450 yards and seven touchdowns.
"Their quarterback is a very dynamic player and he has a good group of receivers surrounding him and he'd getting that ball to him," Dillon said.
Senior Perry Keyes, who has more than 1,100 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns this season, had seven catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns last week. Senior Malik Strickland, who has put up 741 yards and nine touchdown catches this season, caught three passes for 62 yards and a score last week.
Junior Letreal Jones (606 yards, five TDs) and Raven Arrington (598 yards, seven touchdowns) also have been key targets for Keyes.
Senior running back Tycarious Roberts helps keeps defenses honest, rushing for 604 yards and five touchdowns. Last week, he ran for 118 yards on 14 carries.
But North Forrest has senior quarterback Daylyn Croom, their own version, scaled-down version of former Mount Olive High School standout Steve McNair, who went on to punish defenses at Alcorn State University in college and the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans in the National Football League.
Croom has thrown for 2,287 yards and 33 touchdowns with five interceptions this season. He also has rushed for 1,086 yards and 22 touchdowns as well 24, two-point conversions.
Consider: North Forrest has scored 71 touchdowns this season; Croom has had a hand in 55 of them.
"He does an outstanding job for them," Robertson said. "He makes plays with his legs and his arm. He does a good job of improvising, so that even when a play breaks down, he's still got a chance to be successful. He makes you cover the whole field the whole time."
Freshman receiver Rhyen Brisco has rushed for 537 yards and three touchdowns and caught 51 passes for 1,110 yards and 18 touchdowns. Senior K.J Earl has racked up 460 total yards and six touchdowns.
Taylorsville will be on the road for the first time in the playoffs, but Robertson said the Tartars should be fine.
"It's always better when you (be at home), but at this point in the playoffs, you have to just go play," Robertson said. "At the end of the day, when they kick off that ball, I don't think it matters any more. You just go play."