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Eagles' state title defense continues tonight

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

DAWSON -- Briarwood Academy head coach John Osborne will tell anyone who'll listen that his team isn't "that great."

Bill Murdock, who'll coach Terrell Academy in its fourth straight playoff appearance in the GISA Class A semifinals Friday at home, isn't buying Osborne's spiel.

"Coach Osborne is up there around Athens, so he's got that Vince Dooley thing going on," Murdock said of the coach's propensity to poor mouth.

The Buccaneers are in the Class A Final Four, so they've proven they're pretty good. In fact, Obsorne's team may have played its best game of the year last week in a 49-7 win against Randolph Southern, which Terrell Academy also beat, 21-0.

"We had a mentality last Friday, I don't know where it came from," Osborne said. "This team has surprised me. It's amazing that we played like we did last week."

Still, Osborne is concerned with the Eagles -- and rightly so. Terrell Academy is the defending GISA Class A state champion and returned a slew of seniors, all of whom start on offense and defense outside of three positions.

The Eagles (9-2) have run off eight consecutive wins after starting the season 1-2 with losses to GISA Class AA teams Flint River and Southwest Georgia Academy.

"We lost two early and we shouldn't have lost one (21-20 to Flint River)," Eagles senior receiver/safety Colby Blackburn said. "The second (a 42-20 loss to SGA), we weren't ready to play, so we could be undefeated. (The losses) only made us better as a team."

The Buccaneers (8-3) also started slow, losing its first two games to Edmund Burke and Piedmont. After finishing second in its region to Thomas Jefferson, Briarwood hasn't played away from home in nearly a month, which makes a semifinal trip nearly four hours away that much more daunting.

"Terrell has always been a hard place to play," Osborne said. "When you get down there in that environment, home field is a big factor. It just seems to overwhelm any team. If we can get that out of our minds and, like we say, 'Go to work,' we'll be fine."

The Bucs will bring their punishing wishbone ground attack to Dawson and try to run over Terrell with a three-headed backfield of seniors Matthew McElveen, Trey Stadler and sophomore Michael Kent. McElveen leads the trio with 1,546 yards on 140 carries.

"He's quick and small," Eagles senior nose guard Tyler Beckum said of McElveen, before Blackburn added, "but he'll run you over."

Murdock believes Briarwood will have the biggest offensive line his squad has faced this season.

"They're a big, physical team," he said. "They try to keep the ball away from you. That's their game."

A win today will set up a date in Dawson with the state title on the line against the winner of the other semifinal between Thomas Jefferson and Fullington. Still, Murdock doesn't think his team is looking ahead.

"I think our kids understand, (especially) with them handling Randolph like that," Murdock said of Briarwood's dominant performance last week.

Bethesda Day, the second common opponent between the two, was beaten by Briarwood, 26-13, and also lost to Terrell, 46-8, during the regular season and then 42-21 in the first round of the playoffs.

Osborne is most concerned with stopping the Eagles' spread option attack, which he calls the "Florida offense." Terrell's offense has continued to jell under quarterback Cole Phillips, who passed for 127 yards and two touchdowns in last week's win over Bethesda, and all-purpose back Cole Byrd, who ran for 111 and three touchdowns a week ago.

"It's going to be tough," Osborne said. "We're not that great."

Yet, Briarwood might have to be to get back to the state title game for the first time in 13 years.