Two teams with lingering confidence problems from the 2012 high school football season will face off tonight when Pickens travels to Northwest Whitfield.
Both teams are members of Region 7-4A but play in different sub-regions — Pickens in 7A-4A, Northwest in 7B-4A — so the game won’t affect the league standings. But a victory will make the winner 2-0 and could help put the memories of last season’s tough finish away even more.
In last year’s Region 7-4A play-in games at the end of the regular season, in which the No. 2 seed from each sub-region played the No. 3 seed with a state playoffs berth on the line, both Northwest and Pickens saw their seasons end when they came up short of victory. The Bruins suffered a heart-breaking triple-overtime defeat to Gilmer, while Pickens had its biggest flop of the season, getting blown out 42-0 by Dalton.
Both teams still feel like they have something to prove. They will meet for only the second time in the history of the programs when they take the field at Bruin Stadium in Tunnel Hill.
“We didn’t really play that well (against Dalton last season),” said second-year Pickens coach Chris Parker, whose Dragons beat Sonoraville 47-0 in their season opener on Aug. 30. “We have a lot of kids back, and this is like our first test for that group against a real good team. We are as excited about playing this team as we have been in a long time. We have to get it done in a game.”
In other high school football games involving area teams, Christian Heritage is at Coahulla Creek, Murray County is at Gordon Central, North Murray hosts Johnson-Gainesville and Southeast Whitfield is at Gilmer. All kickoffs are at 7:30 p.m.
Pickens returns what’s arguably the region’s best offensive combination in quarterback Tanner Brumby and running back Shannon Brooks.
In the Dragons’ spread offense, the 6-foot,-2-inch, 190-pound senior trigger man is a threat with both his arm and his legs — against Sonoraville, Brumby threw for two touchdowns and rushed for a pair more.
In 2012, Brumby passed for 1,654 yards and 14 touchdowns while rushing for 883 yards and nine scores. He also averaged 42.2 yards per punt to earn Class 4A all-state honors on the Georgia Sports Writers Association team. Brooks finished 2012 with 1,165 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“He is a pretty legit kid,” Parker said of Brumby. “We don’t have the fastest receivers, but Tanner puts the ball where it needs to be thrown. He has made some big plays, but he needs to do it against the best competition.”
Northwest coach Josh Robinson hopes Brumby isn’t able to satisfy his coach’s wish against the Bruins.
“I think coach Parker does a great job out there. They play hard and do things the right way,” Robinson said. “Brumby and Brooks are really, really good, and as far as a tandem in this region, they have to be at the top. Last year, we were able to hem them up, but Brumby got loose in the second half.”
The Bruins beat Pickens 20-7 in Jasper last year.
“We have to prove ourselves against the top half of the sub-region against more traditional programs,” Parker said. “They have a little bigger program, but we want to be in the ballpark with them.”
There are plenty of similarities between the teams. Both won their openers handily, with Northwest taking a 38-20 win over Pepperell, and like the Dragons the Bruins are coming off an open date. Both run a spread offense, and both Parker and Robinson noted that the defenses could be at an advantage this week since they practice against the scheme each week.
However, there are differences — Northwest’s offense is pass-based and Pickens’ is run-based.
For both coaches, the second game of the season is a true measuring stick.
“You are supposed to see the most improvement between the first game and the second one,” Robinson said. “We both will see how much we have approved. They are very, very capable of beating us if we aren’t careful.”
Christian Heritage (1-1) at Coahulla Creek (1-1)
Both teams have suffered self-inflicted wounds during the early part of this season.
Coahulla Creek has been hurt by four interceptions and a pair of fumbles lost, especially in last week’s loss to Gordon Lee. Christian Heritage, which lost to Model 35-28 in the season opener, has the same numbers in those categories.
“We can’t turn over the ball, and we have to capitalize on our opportunities,” Coahulla Creek coach Jared Hamlin said. “We have to quite making those mistakes and start taking advantage of the other teams’ mistakes.”
Lions coach Preston Poag expressed the same sentiments.
“Both of these teams have guys that have played a lot of football over the last three years, and it is time for those guys to execute and compete on every play against every opponent,” Poag said, noting that both teams have several three-year starters. “Their defense is really flying to the ball, and if we have those turnovers, they have the skill players on offense to make us pay for those mistakes.”
Christian Heritage, which won last year’s meeting between the schools 27-3, comes into this game suffering from injuries. Senior tailback Jake Stokes is doubtful for the game with a shoulder injury — he missed the second half against Model and didn’t play in last week’s 51-0 win at Murray County — but receiver Ian Robbins (shoulder) and Tyson Cooper (deep thigh bruise) will be making their return.
Coahulla Creek quarterback Blaine Williams suffered an elbow injury against Gordon Lee, but Hamlin expects him to play tonight.
One big concern for the Colts is Christian Heritage’s offense, which is keyed by quarterback Trevor Brown. The senior, a third-year starter, has passed for 504 yards and seven touchdowns in the Lions’ first two games.
“They have a lot of athletes and they do a lot of things,” Hamlin said. “You can’t sit there and spin your wheels to every little thing that they do, but you have to work to their formations. You can’t be prepared for all 18,000 plays that they run.”
Murray County (0-2) at Gordon Central (0-2)
That’s what Gordon Central coach David Humphreys wants his Warriors to do against Murray County.
“We’re struggling, to be honest,” said Humphreys, who is 59-35 in nine seasons as a head coach in Georgia, including a 42-8 mark with three state quarterfinals appearances when he was at Rome from 2001 to 2004. “Everything we’re doing is new and we’re shooting ourselves in the foot a lot.”
The Indians also are struggling, having dropped their first two games by a combined score of 86-9. The Warriors have been outscored 50-12.
Chad Brewer, the Indians’ first-year coach, doesn’t want his players looking back or spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about the losses.
“If you play bad and get beat 51-0, why dwell on it?” Brewer said. “Forget about it. Adjust, fix things and move on. You’ve got to have a short memory.”
That can be a hard lesson to learn, though.
In 2012, the Warriors posted a 52-0 victory over Murray County that continued a string of routs that produced another winless season for the Indians. In half of the 10 losses, opponents scored between 52 to 69 points. That has to change.
“We have to be disciplined on defense this week,” Brewer said. “They run a veer option and we have to make sure we have the dive, the quarterback and the pitch on every play and get those guys on the ground. If we don’t, they have the speed to pop some plays and it’ll be a long night.”
The Indians, who have lost 20 consecutive games, have given up an average of 439 yards of total offense in two games. They have been outscored 52-0 in the first half, so it has been a constant battle to play catch-up.
Turnovers — five interceptions and three lost fumbles — have strained the Indians’ offense, so eliminating the miscues has been this week’s focus in practice.
“That’s terrible,” Brewer said. “You’ll never beat anybody doing that.”
Johnson-Gainesville (1-2) at North Murray (0-2)
Wins don’t mean much until region play begins.
But North Murray sure would like to have one before the Mountaineers travel to Cartersville next week to begin Region 5-3A play.
North Murray was on the opposite end of the win-loss spectrum last season when it faced Johnson-Gainesville. The Mountaineers won their first two games, eclipsing the previous amount of victories in a single season for the young program, and then defeated the Knights 27-13 for a 3-0 start.
This season, it has been much different.
“Our biggest problem thus far has been us,” North Murray coach David Gann said. “Not taking anything away from our opponents, but we made a lot of mistakes in (each game). We made those first-year player mistakes, those ninth-grade and sophomore mistakes.”
The Mountaineers lost 35-12 to Southeast Whitfield and 30-26 to Dade County. Now they’ll try to capture the first win of the year against the Knights, who are driven offensively by quarterback Kavin Hopkins and slot back Jesse Griggs.
“The have a very athletic quarterback,” Gann said. “They run Georgia Tech’s offense with double slots and run the option. That’s all they do, but they are good at it.”
Johnson coach Jason Roquemore said “this game will be won at the line of scrimmage” because both teams are quite similar on offense. Additionally, the Knights’ coach also touted the Mountaineers’ toughness on offense and ability to make defensive adjustments.
“I think both offenses will look to sustain drives,” Roquemore added. “We pride ourselves in 10- or 12-play drives. You look at what they do and I think the philosophy is very similar.
“I think our skill kids are very similar and it will come down to the big nasties and blocking and controlling the trenches.”
Southeast (2-0) at Gilmer (2-0)
It’s been more than 20 years since Southeast has started a season this well in terms of wins and losses, and the Raiders can go for another first-time-in-a-long-time moment tonight.
With a win against the Bobcats, they’ll be 3-0 for the first time since 1985, when Southeast finished the season 9-2 and reached the region semifinals in the playoffs.
The good start means a lot to the team and those who support it,” Raiders coach Sean Gray said.
“It is a big deal for the community,” he said. “It reinforces what we’ve been saying the last two years. The kids have been working hard and putting for the effort. It’s nice to see them reap the rewards of the hard work they’ve put in. These games along with the rebuilding of the facilities really builds on that excitement.”
However, the Raiders have enjoyed the comforts of home in their first two games this season — and that changes tonight.
“It will be interesting to see (how they perform),” Gray said. “The first away game is always tough. I think the guys will respond well and they’ll show up and play hard.”
The Bobcats’ featured back is senior Johnie Flakes, who’s coming off a 145-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance in last week’s 33-13 victory against Sonoraville. Gray knows the physicality and toughness associated with Gilmer’s running game in recent seasons.
He also knows the attention to detail his team will need to come away with another victory.
“We have to be focused,” Gray said. “It is going to take us a good hour, hour and a half to get there. We’ve got to get off that bus ready to play.”
— Compiled by sports writers Devin Golden and Chris Whitfield and correspondents Larry Fleming and Dave Gordon. Some scores and records listed were obtained at the Georgia High School Football Historians Association (ghsfha.org).