October 25, 2013

Consider the possibilities

Much more than bragging rights at stake as Southeast hosts Northwest

The Daily Citizen

— A win tonight rewards Northwest Whitfield High School’s football team with a meaningful 10th game.

For Southeast Whitfield, the ceiling is much higher, but the risk is much greater.

The Raiders’ region championship hopes hinge on winning their next three games, but a loss to the Bruins — the two Sub-region 7B-4A teams square off tonight in a rivalry clash at Raider Stadium — all but dooms their chances of making the state playoffs.

In other local games tonight, Christian Heritage hosts Providence Christian in a non-region matchup, Murray County is at Dade County in a Region 7-2A game, Coahulla Creek welcomes Ringgold and North Murray visits Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe in Region 5-3A contests and Dalton visits Heritage-Catoosa in another Sub-region 7B-4A matchup.

For Northwest (6-1, 2-1 Sub-region 7B-4A), the dreams of winning a sub-region and region championship took a major blow two weeks ago when the Bruins lost 31-28 to Dalton, which is still undefeated in sub-region play. However, Northwest still has the chance to finish either second or third in the sub-region and play in one of the games that determine the region’s third and fourth seeds for the Class 4A state playoffs.

(During the final week of the regular season, the sub-region champions will play each other to determine the region’s first and second seeds for state. The No. 2 finisher in each sub-region will cross over to play the No. 3 finisher from the other sub-region, with the winner advancing to state and the losers done for year.)

The Bruins have to win either tonight or next week against visiting LaFayette (0-7, 0-3) for a chance to finish in the sub-region’s top three, and a win against the Raiders (4-3, 2-1) clinches second place.

“(Making the playoffs) really was our biggest goal this season,” Northwest senior offensive lineman Ross Chadwick said. “We wanted to go 10-0 and win the region, but we’re still in a good position to make the playoffs.”

Southeast could fly to the top or sink nearly out of sight. A win means next week’s game against Dalton is for the sub-region championship. If the Raiders lose tonight, they no longer control their destiny even in the hunt to finish in the top three in the sub-region.

“It’s just fun to be in a rivalry game with this much on the line,” Southeast coach Sean Gray said.

Northwest and Southeast have played 35 times since their series began when the two schools opened in 1975, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association website (ghsfha.org). The Bruins have won 28 of those meetings and the past 16 in a row, including last year’s 31-7 result.

“You always want to beat people who are your competitors,” Northwest coach Josh Robinson said. “When it’s anyone who is close to you, who competes in the same county and same school system, you want to win that game.”

Bruins quarterback Caleb Shiflett has thrown for 1,372 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, with 1,077 of those yards and all but three of those touchdowns to senior wide receivers Andy Whisenant and Tevin McDaniel. Running back Jacob Webb is averaging a little more than 100 yards per game.

Northwest’s fast-paced no-huddle spread offense is run by coordinator David Crane, who was head coach at Southeast from 2008 to 2011. Southeast senior Rhett Harper started at receiver as a freshman and sophomore under Crane’s direction and knows his former coach’s offensive style well.

“It’s very hard to defend,” Harper said. “Playing in it, you don’t think it’s that fast. Playing against it, like last year, it’s on the ball all the time.”

The Raiders have used two different offensive styles this season. One is smash-mouth I-formation play with Harper at quarterback; the other is based in the spread and directed by sophomore quarterback Will Swantic, who is also a threat to run, having rushed for 393 yards this season. Robinson said he is preparing for “probably the most talented team” in many years at Southeast.

“Any time you play a team with a nothing-to-lose type approach — and they’re very much in that possibility to get a playoff spot, but they’re also in a position to let everything loose — that’s dangerous,” he said.

Providence Christian (1-4)

at Christian Heritage (5-2)

When Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy decided to drop its football program shortly before the start of the season, the teams on the Warriors’ schedule were left scrambling to fill out a 10th game.

Luckily for Christian Heritage coach Preston Poag, he had a number stored in his phone that helped him solve the problem for his Lions.

Ken Robinson spent eight years as an assistant coach at Gwinnett County private school powerhouse Greater Atlanta Christian before starting the football program at Lilburn’s Providence Christian Academy two years ago. Poag and Robinson met at a summer camp, and when the hole was created in Christian Heritage’s schedule, Poag knew who to call.

“They are a new program and are playing a non-region schedule, but I was really impressed with coach Robinson when I met him,” Poag said. “They are in a great area and are building their program the right way.”

The Storm began as a middle school program in 2011 and played a junior varsity schedule in 2012. Next year they’ll start region play in football as a Class A team — where they end up will be known later this fall when the Georgia High School Association goes through its latest round of reclassification — but are playing a seven-game schedule this season, with five junior varsity games and two varsity games.

Besides Christian Heritage, Providence Christian took on North Cobb — which like the Lions was scheduled to play Southwest Atlanta Christian — in varsity competition on Oct. 11, with North Cobb winning 41-21.

“We are still a very young team and have some talented players but they are inexperienced,” Robinson said. “It is the same thing every week for us — focus on the things you have control over and get better each week. Discipline doesn’t require any talent.”

Christian Heritage had its open date last Friday, a week after suffering a last-minute loss to Darlington in Sub-region 6A-A play.

“It was a real good time for us to have an off week,” Poag said. “We are going to be excited to get back on the field, and we will be very basic this week. We need to get back to what we do best, and that should be execution.”

Ringgold (6-1, 4-0) at

Coahulla Creek (2-5, 1-3)

The Colts host a Ringgold team on a roll, with the Tigers — who beat North Murray 49-27 last week — having won four in a row since losing 19-15 to Central-Carroll on Sept. 13, the only time this season they haven’t scored at least 30 points.

Ringgold’s average of 36 points per game is second in Region 5-3A only to powerhouse Cartersville — which is averaging 50 per outing — and the Tigers have no shortage of threats capable of putting the ball in the end zone.

With all of that in mind, Coahulla Creek coach Jared Hamlin understands the importance of not missing assignments on defense.

“They are as good as anyone we play,” Hamlin said. “We’re going to have to be fundamentally sound defensively.”

Among the offensive weapons for the Tigers are senior quarterback Slade Dale, junior running backs D.L. Goins and Kile Sholl and junior wide receiver Christian Plott. All are capable of putting up big numbers, as they did against the Mountaineers. Goins, Plott and Sholl each had more than 100 yards rushing or receiving last week, while Dale passed for two touchdowns.

Dale’s ability to use both his arm and legs to break down a defense reminds Hamlin of a certain Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback currently starring at Texas A&M.

“Just by the way he does things, he reminds me of Johnny Manziel,” Hamlin said of Dale, who has committed to the University of Georgia’s baseball program and led his Tigers to a 33-27 triple-overtime victory at Dalton to open the season. “Not that he is, but he has that kind of threat. He throws and runs it well. We have to try to keep him wrapped up and keep him from getting loose.”

The Colts will look to control the ball and the clock against Ringgold, a recipe that brought them success in the first half of last week’s 28-18 loss to LFO. This time, though, they’d also like to come away with more points after getting into the red zone.

Against the Warriors, Coahulla Creek had four drives 11 plays or more and ran 48 plays during the first two quarters, when the Colts’ no-huddle offense was working efficiently.

Dalton (5-2, 3-0) at

Heritage (1-6, 1-2)

If Dalton wins tonight and Southeast loses, the Catamounts will clinch a spot in the Region 7-4A championship game on Nov. 8.

Earning a spot in that title matchup — and winning it — was the goal when the season started for Dalton, which is on a five-game winning streak.

“Our team has taken a very business-like approach to what is at hand,” Cats coach Matt Land said. “I think they realized in weeks one, two and three that a goal is a goal. In weeks six, seven, eight and nine, it’s tangible. It’s something you can put your hands on.

“I think as we get closer to the eventuality of that goal, our players are filtering their focus. There are still some days we don’t do it right and sometimes we have to pull everyone back together.”

On the other end of the win-loss spectrum, the Generals have lost 16 of their past 17 games dating back to the start of the 2012 season, which they finished 0-10.

“I guess we always hope for more improvement,” Heritage coach Tim James said, “but we’ve gotten a little bit better.”

The Generals haven’t limited an opponent to fewer than 26 points all season but they have shown progress in scoring. Through five games, Heritage averaged only 8.4 points. In the past two games, including a 48-26 win two weeks ago versus LaFayette, the Generals are averaging 30.5 points. Heritage’s offense is led by sophomore quarterback Dylan Bice and freshman running back Tanner Nance.

“What I see is a quarterback with a big arm,” Land said of Bice. “I see big receivers. I see a big offensive line. I see a team that has all the pieces and on any given Friday night can put them together.”

Heritage’s postseason hopes are still alive, too, but James is more focused on the immediate task.

“We just hope to play a respectful game,” he said. “This is a Dalton team that’s about as good a team as we’ve seen in this region.”

Murray County (1-6, 0-4)

at Dade County (4-3, 2-2)

When Murray County lost 62-14 at Model on Oct. 11, Indians coach Chad Brewer wasn’t pleased with his team’s effort.

So how did he feel after last week’s 61-point loss to Calhoun?

A lot better.

“This is going to sound crazy, but Friday night was not disappointing to me at all,” Brewer said. “Our kids fought and battled all game. We had some guys blocking some guys that they shouldn’t have been blocking and making plays against a very good football team. I felt like we fought and played hard the whole ballgame.”

While Murray County has yet to come close to duplicating its lone win of the season — a 14-12 win at Gordon Central on Sept. 13 — Brewer said his team got better last week.

“The fight was there. They are taking a lot of pride in their performance and how they look on film,” Brewer said. “We were a hundred times better than we were against Model. It showed me that we haven’t cashed it in yet.

“If we win three football games, we have a chance to make the playoffs. We have played the two best teams in the region already, and if we can keep fighting a little bit we can give ourselves a chance. If you don’t take that pride, then you aren’t going to give yourself a chance.”

At Dade County, the Indians will find a team that isn’t fancy but gets the job done. The Wolverines returned seven starters on defense and five on offense from last season, and after last week’s 42-7 rout of Armuchee — which beat Murray County 41-0 earlier this season — they already have one more win than they did at the end of last season.

Dade County running back Zac Freeman will look for his second big game against a team from Murray County after scoring three touchdowns earlier this year in a 30-26 win at North Murray.

“They are a very well-coached team,” Brewer said of Dade County. “Their offensive line works very well with two very good running backs behind them. They play very hard and it is going to be a challenge for us. They are a team where if we compete and battle, we will have a chance. There is nothing fancy about them at all. They are going to run the football right at you.”

North Murray (1-6, 0-4)

at LFO (3-4, 2-2)

Despite going winless in region play with more than half of its 5-3A schedule over, North Murray’s postseason hopes aren’t gone.

But they have to start winning — now.

“It is my understanding that we still could make the playoffs,” Mountaineers coach David Gann said. “It’s a small chance. If we win out, we would be 3-4 (in region play). However, we would have to get some help.”

The top four teams in the region advance to the Class 3A state playoffs.

North Murray has already played Cartersville (7-0, 4-0) — the No. 2 team in the Georgia Sports Writers Association’s Class 3A state poll — Ringgold (6-1, 4-0) and Adairsville (5-2, 3-1), which hold the top three spots in the Region 5-3A standings with three games to play. The Mountaineers’ other region game was against Sonoraville (2-5, 2-2), which is tied for fourth with Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe.

The schedule looks more favorable the rest of the way for North Murray, with tonight’s road trip followed by home games against Coahulla Creek (2-5, 1-3) and Gordon Central (0-7, 0-4). But Gann knows winning the final two won’t make a difference in the hunt for the playoffs without a victory tonight at LFO.

“We’re concerned right now about a very physical LFO team,” Gann said.

Gann called Warriors quarterback Sky Rogers “as tough as a quarterback as I’ve ever been around.” Gann was previously an assistant at Ringgold before taking over at North Murray last year, and Rogers played at Ringgold before transferring to LFO. Rogers, whose toughness shows in also playing middle linebacker, threw a pair of touchdown passes in last week’s 28-18 win over Coahulla Creek.

LFO fullback Jacob Gilbert punctured the Colts’ defense for 153 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while wide receiver/defensive back Coe Crawford had a touchdown reception and intercepted two passes.

“We’ve been in almost every game that we’ve played,” Gann said. “That gives us reason for optimism down the stretch.”

— Compiled by sports writers Devin Golden and Chris Whitfield and correspondents Dave Gordon and Doug Hawley. The Georgia High School Football Historians Association’s website (ghsfha.org) was used as a reference for some scores and win-loss records.