Gilmer (7-2) at Northwest (6-3)
Now is when it matters.
For both Gilmer coach Wesley Tankersley and Northwest coach Josh Robinson, tonight’s game is a chance to keep the season going along, and both said their players understand what is at stake.
“We’ve had probably the best back-to-back practices in three weeks, and that is a testament to the urgency of this game,” Robinson said earlier this week. “We have put in a lot of time and a lot of effort, and we don’t want it to end. You hope you carry that on to Friday night.”
Gilmer’s wing-T offense has excelled at becoming more diverse this season. While still a team that runs the ball, the Bobcats have found a very effective passing game behind quarterback Marlen Hensley.
“We try to hang our hat running the ball, but this year we have been able to throw the ball a little bit,” Tankersley said. “We have thrown for 1,400 yards passing with 18 touchdowns, but that has been off of our running game. We have been able to set up the run and use it.”
That duality concerns Robinson.
“That is the thing you notice is they pound the ball at you and then they will hit you deep,” Robinson said. “They have made some plays in the passing game because they have been able to run it so effectively. That is an issue that we have to address. That is our biggest fear. We have to stop the run, but we have to do it in a disciplined way.”
By the end of last season, the Bruins were old hands at defending against the wing-T because they faced it five times. But tonight will be the first time this season Northwest has had to defend against the misdirection offense.
“It is reading keys and being disciplined with your eyes, and we have played it a lot in the past,” Robinson said, “but it has been a while since we have seen it, and you hope the kids are ready for it.”
Northwest will counter with a spread offense keyed by quarterback Silas Ledford, who is nine yards shy of reaching the 2,000-yard mark for the season. Ledford has thrown for 20 touchdowns with just seven interceptions.
The rushing game has progressed nicely for the Bruins as well. Senior running back Chris Tinson has gone over the 100-yard mark the past two games and has 643 yards and seven touchdowns since taking over the starting role in the third game.
“We know that you can’t score every time you touch the ball, but you have to manage the game with our offense,” Robinson said. “If they control the clock, that limits the offensive possessions you have, and you have to give the defense a chance to rest. We have to be able to run the ball and pass the ball effectively.”