Sports

November 1, 2013

Prep football: Playoff possibilities aplenty

Raiders still have a shot at postseason

Thanks to a little help last week, Southeast Whitfield can still take a straightforward path to the high school football state playoffs.

But to travel that road, the Raiders first must move a Big Red bulldozer out of the way.

Southeast takes on Dalton tonight at Harmon Field in a Sub-region 7B-4A matchup that won’t affect the host Catamounts (6-2, 4-0) in the postseason picture but will have plenty of implications for the Raiders (4-4, 2-2).

The Cats clinched the sub-region title last week, assuring themselves of a spot in next week’s Region 7-4A title game as well as the right to host in the opening round of the state playoffs. With a win tonight, Southeast will finish as the sub-region’s No. 3 seed and earn a spot in next week’s region crossover games that will determine the region’s final two berths for the state playoffs.

The No. 2 team from each of 7-4A’s sub-regions will play the No. 3 team from the other next week, with the winners advancing to state and the losers done for the season.

In other games tonight involving teams in Murray and Whitfield counties, Christian Heritage travels to Trion in Sub-region 6A-A play, Murray County hosts Pepperell in Region 7-2A competition, Coahulla Creek visits North Murray in a Region 5-3A contest and Northwest Whitfield welcomes LaFayette in another Sub-region 7B-4A clash.

Southeast is alone in third place in the sub-region standings despite last week’s 45-28 loss to Northwest. The reason why is because previously winless LaFayette beat Ridgeland 32-29.

“Oh man, what a nice surprise that was,” Raiders coach Sean Gray said. “It’s about time we got some help down here at Southeast.”

It might not be the end of Gray and the Raiders hoping for breaks. If they lose tonight, they can still finish as the sub-region’s No. 3 team and have the chance to earn a spot in the postseason for the first time since 1986.

To make that happen with a loss to the Cats, the Raiders need Heritage-Catoosa to beat Ridgeland — which beat Southeast this year — tonight. Southeast and Heritage both would have 2-3 records, but the Raiders would clinch third because of their victory against Heritage earlier this season. The same would be true if LaFayette also finishes 2-3 in sub-region play.

“I don’t know how long it has been since Southeast has had this opportunity,” Dalton safety Nathan Bryant said, “but they will be extra fired up for this game.”

Bryant is part of a defense that has three shutouts in its past six games. The Cats will try to stop Southeast’s two-quarterback offense, with senior Rhett Harper in power-run formations and sophomore Will Swantic manning the shotgun spread. The latter threw two touchdowns and ran for another against the Bruins last week.

“I think things are starting to go in Southeast’s favor,” Raiders offensive lineman Matt Cloer said.

The Cats may not have postseason worries on their mind, but they are playing for a seven-game winning streak entering the region championship — they’ll face the winner of tonight’s Gilmer-Cedartown game next Friday — and looking to stretch a 31-1 series lead over a neighboring school.

Dalton coach Matt Land said he plans to use his starters against Southeast like any other game.

“Are we cautious with how we play certain people? Absolutely,” Land said. “As the game goes on, you realize the ebb and flow. ... When a game gets sloppy, that’s when you have to be careful.”

Junior running back Kelvis Rhodes has 726 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns on 91 carries. Eder Mora leads Dalton from his safety/linebacker hybrid spot in tackles (112), forced fumbles (3) and recovered fumbles (2). He also has three interceptions, punts and sees the occasional snap at fullback.

“Mora is an outstanding athlete,” Gray said. “They move him around so you never know where he’s going to be.”

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