By Chris Whitfield
Northwest Whitfield and Carrollton are two high school football teams with the ability to score a ton of points.
They go about it in totally different ways.
In another contrast, Northwest is making its first appearance in the state playoffs since 2009, while Carrollton has one of the most tradition-rich programs in Georgia, with seven state titles since 1956 and a streak of 26 straight appearances in the postseason.
Northwest’s Bruins, the No. 3 seed from Region 7, travel to Grisham Stadium in Carrollton to take on the second-seeded Trojans from Region 5 at 7:30 tonight in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs.
“I’ve been over to Carrollton four times in the last six or seven years to watch them play in the playoffs, but I have never coached (a game) there,” Northwest coach Josh Robinson said. “Facility-wise, it is probably in the top five in the state.
“It is just a wonderful atmosphere. They have a lot of tradition and a ton of talent, but we are a nine-win team, and if we just go out there and believe and play a good game, we have a chance.”
Both teams have 9-1 records. Carrollton finished as its region’s runner-up after losing 24-7 to 2012 state champion Sandy Creek, the No. 1 team in the Georgia Sports Writers Association’s Class 4A state poll. Northwest’s only loss came to Region 7-4A champion Dalton, but because of the rules of the region, which award the top two seeds to sub-region champions, Northwest could finish no higher than third in the region.
“It is a very, very athletic region that they play in,” Robinson said. “Sandy Creek is a very, very good football team and the rest of those teams are loaded with athletes and skill position players. It is a strong region, but I feel if we played in that region we would have success. The difference is (Region 5 teams have) more athletes overall.”
The Trojans certainly have those. Coach Rayvan Teague’s wing-T offense is one of the most prolific in the state when it comes to points, averaging 45.6 per game. Carrollton’s balanced running game has been spread between running backs Malik Sheppard, Trey Chivers and Jarvis Terrell and quarterback Will Garrett. Sheppard is the leading rusher with 652 yards, but all three running backs have more than 575 yards and Garrett has added 323.
Garrett also gives the offense some balance, passing for 875 yards and 10 touchdowns this year.
“(Garrett) has done a great job,” said Teague, who’s in his 12th season at Carrollton after previously leading the programs at LaFayette (1990-93) and Swainsboro (1995-2001), compiling a 216-68-1 record overall and winning a state title in 2000.
“We probably throw the ball 10 to 15 times per game, but we could run the gun very easily with him. He is probably the best quarterback that I have had since I have been here.”
The Trojans have excelled at pouncing on opponents early, outscoring teams 163-7 in the first quarter this season. Stopping their attack will be up to a Northwest defense that has allowed 20 or more points five times this season but also recorded a pair of shutouts.
“I am very impressed with their defensive front,” Teague said. “They may have one of the best lines that we have played all season. Isaiah Mack is really impressive at defensive end and is one of the best defensive linemen we have faced.
“You have to block. Speed is no good if you don't block. We do have some good skill guys, but Sandy Creek knocked the wind out of us a couple of weeks ago. Hopefully, we can execute a little better than we did last week.”
Carrollton ended the regular season with a 42-6 win over LaGrange.
“They remind me a lot of the Ridgeland team from last year,” Robinson said, referring to last year’s state runner-up. “Their running backs are probably a little faster than Ridgeland’s, but those two teams are very, very comparable. We probably haven’t seen as great a combination as what we will see with them, but at the same time we have seen three wing-T teams this year, so we haven’t had to do a lot of teaching.”
Northwest, which is averaging 42.8 points per game, will counter with a spread offense triggered by junior Caleb Shiflett. A first-year starter, the Bruins quarterback is 80 yards shy of passing for 2,000 this season. Seniors Tevin McDaniel and Andy Whisenant are Shiflett’s top targets, combining for 1,485 yards receiving and 20 touchdowns.
“Offensively, the quarterback does a really good job of throwing the football and getting it into the hands of their athletes,” Teague said. “(Whisenant) is a great receiver who runs great routes and they have a good chemistry. (McDaniel) is their playmaker and can hurt you in so many different ways.”
The winner of tonight’s game advances to face the winner of tonight’s Banneker-Monroe Area matchup in next week’s second round.