October 28, 2013

Friday Night Rewind: Bruins are good on the ground, too

There have been times this season when Northwest Whitfield High School’s offense has flown as high as any in this part of the state.

Going into last Friday’s Sub-region 7B-4A game at Southeast Whitfield, senior wide receivers Tevin McDaniel and Andy Whisenant had a combined 59 catches — including 14 touchdowns — for more than 1,000 yards. Junior quarterback Caleb Shiflett set the program’s single-game record with five touchdown passes in a 54-14 rout of River Ridge on Sept. 27 only to repeat the feat the following week in a 49-7 demolition of Heritage-Catoosa.

Factor in those stats with the frenetic pace Northwest’s no-huddle spread offense keeps most of the time, and it’s easy to see why the Bruins are thought of as a high-paced, high-powered passing team.

But in Friday’s 45-28 victory at Raider Stadium, where the Bruins led 35-0 before Southeast dented the scoreboard, the Bruins showed their ground game — with help from a turnover-creating defense — can get the job done just as well.

In other games involving local teams on Friday, Christian Heritage pummeled Providence Christian 47-0 in a non-region game, Coahulla Creek fell 42-6 to Ringgold (which remained undefeated in Region 5-3A play), Dalton rolled 41-3 at Heritage and — coupled with Southeast’s loss to Northwest — clinched the Sub-region 7B-4A championship, Murray County lost 47-0 at Dade County in Region 7-2A play and North Murray outlasted Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe 63-43 in a Region 5-3A shootout.

As for the Bruins (7-1, 3-1) — whose win at Southeast clinched second place in the sub-region and assured them of playing for a state playoffs berth on Nov. 8 — they rushed for 231 yards on 43 carries. All four of Northwest’s offensive touchdowns came on the ground — senior running back Jacob Webb had three, while McDaniel had one — with McDaniel and Whisenant showing their versatility as each returned a turnover for a score in the first quarter.

Northwest had similar success running the football in its 31-28 loss to Dalton on Oct. 11. In that game, the Bruins ran the ball 40 times for 201 yards, while Shiflett completed 11 of 18 passing attempts for 156 yards.

Against Southeast, Shiflett had as many attempts as he did against Dalton but completed just six for 69 yards. He was more on target after halftime, completing half of the six passes he threw for 33 yards. Interestingly, the longest pass play went to Webb on a 21-yard screen in the second quarter.

All four of the Bruins’ deep pass attempts in the game went to Whisenant, and all four were short of the wide-open target. After the game, he wasn’t too concerned about the off night for the passing game.

“They just needed a little more air,” Whisenant said. “That’s all right, though. You won’t be able to complete everything.”

With a running game that has shown it better not be overlooked, Whisenant can afford to take such miscues in stride.

• With its fourth shutout this season, Christian Heritage’s defense once again made its presence known.

Since a season-opening 35-28 loss to Model, the Lions (6-2, 2-1 Sub-region 6A-A) have allowed just 48 points in seven games, an average of fewer than seven points per contest. The offense is likely feeling better as well after bouncing back from an 18-14 loss to Darlington on Oct. 11, the lowest point total of the season for the Lions.

Christian Heritage plays at Trion this Friday, with the winner finishing second in Sub-region 6A-A. Both teams are 2-1 against league opponents.

Friday’s winner will play the No. 3 seed from Sub-region 6B-A on Nov. 8 in a Region 6-A crossover matchup. It will likely be against the loser of this week’s game between Mount Paran Christian and Mount Pisgah Christian.

• Whether Coahulla Creek (2-6, 1-4 Region 5-3A) wanted it or not, Ringgold’s late first-half heroics — Tigers quarterback Slade Dale hit J.T. Roach for a 27-yard touchdown pass with 47 seconds left — provided a small picture of the frustrations hampering the Colts this season.

Dale, an agile signal-caller who has committed to the University of Georgia to play baseball, was happy to see teammate Kile Sholl return a Colts kickoff 68 yards to give him the ball at the Colts’ 27 with less than a minute to play in the second quarter. On first down, Dale dropped back. Although seemingly surrounded, he broke what looked to be a sure tackle and threw an off-balance pass to Roach in the left corner of the end zone for a 35-6 lead.

The Colts, who had just scored on the previous drive, didn’t threaten again.

“I mean, I thought we had (Dale) dead to rights back there,” said Colts coach Jared Hamlin, still exasperated about the play after the game. “It’s hard to defend against any receiver for eight to 10 seconds. This is what I’m talking about ... we just need to finish things.”

The Colts’ only score, Cameron Burton’s 7-yard touchdown run with 1:14 remaining before halftime, was set up by Darius Miller’s interception return to the Tigers’ 15.

• On a night when the weather was crisp, Dalton (6-2, 4-0 Sub-region 7B-4A) was not.

Despite the Catamounts’ scoreboard dominance and what it helped them accomplish in their race for a region title, they were far from perfect against Heritage. Dalton was hurt by penalties, turnovers and trouble on special teams.

For most of the season, Cats kickoff specialist Pepe Gardea has been excellent at pinning the opposition with kicks into the end zone, which aren’t allowed to be returned, per Georgia High School Association rules. But with temperatures in the 30s, the ball wasn’t taking off on the kicks. Two went out of bounds, while the first was returned 44 yards for a short field for Heritage led to the Generals’ only score.

Eventually, Isai Hernandez took over kickoff duties.

“That old ball gets cold, and you don’t have to miss but just a little bit for something to go wrong,” Dalton coach Matt Land said. “Overall, our return game was very good tonight, but just the fact that we didn’t kick it into the end zone made it not feel good. We have a high standard for our special teams.”

Dalton’s defense, which narrowly missed its fourth shutout, turned in another strong effort. The Cats had three interceptions and held the Generals to negative offensive yardage.

With their place in the Sub-region 7A champion on Nov. 8 already secured, the Cats will host Southeast on Friday and Land expects his team to finish the season strong.

“I am clearly looking for improvement. We need to regain the posture of seeking perfection and not just getting a win,” Land said. “Wins are important and they clearly get you to your goals, but for us to get to where we eventually want to get to, we need to eliminate the mistakes and the thoughtless actions. It is all about attention to detail.”

• Points haven’t come easily for Murray County (1-7, 0-5 Region 7-2A) since its 14-12 win at Gordon Central on Sept. 13.

Friday’s loss was the fourth time this season the Indians were shut out and the second week in a row. Murray County has scored just seven points in its past three games and has scored in double digits just twice this year — outside of the win against Gordon Central, the Indians hit that level in a 56-13 loss to Chattooga on Sept. 27.

Scoring was  a problem during last year’s winless season, too, as the Indians reached double digits just twice and were blanked on the scoreboard twice.

Some struggles may come from still adjusting to a new offensive scheme. First-year head coach Chad Brewer switched from a run-heavy scheme to a pistol/spread offense more reliant on passing and zone-read option plays.

• North Murray (2-6, 1-4 Region 5-3A) kept its playoff chances alive with its win at LFO, and fans for both teams got every penny’s worth out of their entertainment dollar.

The 106 points scored between the two teams was the highest-scoring game in the region this season, and the contest’s back-and-forth nature looked more like Madden 25 on the Xbox than a high school football game.

North Murray and LFO are accustomed to high-scoring showdowns. Last season, the Warriors came away with a 47-35 victory, and the season before that LFO won a feverish 35-28 double-overtime heart-stopper.

What gets North Murray coach David Gann’s blood pumping is knowing his team is still in the hunt for the postseason, although admittedly in need of help from others in the region.

“(The LFO win) still gives us an opportunity to get in the playoffs, and that’s what our overall goal is.”

• Despite another slow start, Southeast coach Sean Gray expressed plenty of pride in his players for their effort in the second quarter and beyond in Friday’s loss.

The Raiders (4-4, 2-2 Sub-region 7B-4A) fell behind 35-0 at the 2:57 mark of the first quarter but outscored their opponents 28-10 the rest of the game.

“We say it all the time — our plan is to win or compete,” Gray said. “Even after that disastrous start, we competed.”

Southeast used the I formation on its first three possessions, which ended with a fumble and two punts, allowing Northwest good field position and a quick 21-0 lead. Southeast switched to the spread with Will Swantic at quarterback the rest of the game, except for a fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak from Rhett Harper in the third quarter.

Swantic finished with two touchdowns and one interception on 13 of 17 passing for 118 yards.

Raiders senior wide receiver Abram Stanley, who finished with five catches for 69 yards, gave the Bruins credit for disrupting Southeast’s offensive plans early. He also gave Swantic and the spread credit for helping the Raiders adjust the rest of the way.

“They have some powerhouses up front,” Stanley said. “I think we spread the field on them and did a good job. (Swantic is) young, but I’m glad for him to take that role.”

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