Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

ALBANY -- Pressure?

Don't need it. Don't like it. Don't need to talk about it.

That's the idea at Deerfield-Windsor, where one of the closest-knit teams in Georgia opens the GISA Class AAA playoffs tonight at home against Griffin Christian with a chance to not only begin a march to a third consecutive state championship game, but also with a chance to become the first team in DWS history to go 13-0.

"No, there's no pressure about that at all,'' said DWS linebacker Rhett Cooper. "There's no added pressure in being 10-0. Even if we were 6-4 and we were the No. 4 seed, we would still be going for the same thing -- a state title.''

Cooper, a senior, played in both state title games.

"The biggest difference in this year's team and those two teams is in the number of guys who play,'' he said. "The last two years we had more guys go both ways. This year we have a lot more guys who can play.''

Coach Allen Lowe talked about that depth in August and then watched as his team seemed to get deeper and deeper and better and better every week. If there's a secret to DWS this season, it's the way Lowe ships players in and out, especially on his offensive line, where he has different waves of players known as Thunder and Lightning.

"There are so many guys who can play it keeps the defense fresh,'' Cooper said. "It goes back to our offensive line, Thunder and Lightning, and the way we bring so many guys into the game.''

Deerfield just wears teams out.

The Knights brought back seven starters from last year's defense, and it's not surprising how well this group has played since the opening night kickoff. Cooper and Gaughf Ivey returned at linebacker, and Jordan Funderburk, Walker Lanier and Matt Miller all returned on the defensive line and Banks Kinslow and Davis Moore returned in the secondary.

The only surprise is they have been even better than expected. The DWS D has allowed just 67 points all year, and the offense has been explosive at times, scoring 330 points. It's been that kind of year for the Knights, who are only the third team at DWS to go 10-0, and the first since 1992. The '92 team went 11-1, losing to eventual state champ Southland in the second round. Lowe coached that team.

"There are definitely similarities on defense between the two teams,'' Lowe said. 'The '92 team gave up less than a touchdown a game and had five shutouts. This year's team has given up only (6.7 points per game). But on offense, this year's team is much more diverse. We have a lot more weapons.''

Kinslow has broken several school records at quarterback, including throwing for four TDs in one quarter and five in a game and 1,087 yards and 18 TDs for the year. But it's not just Kinslow's brilliant arm that Griffin has to worry about. Moore (838 yards rushing) and Heard (713 yards rushing) lead a bevy of running backs for the Knights, who have seen at least a half a dozen running backs gain big yards, including Ivey, who runs as tough as anyone.

Four receivers have more than 100 yards in receptions, including Lanier (145), Moore (140), Heard (125) and Ivey (110).

Those are some of the reasons Deerfield is 10-0, but no one is looking at the record.

"Every year is a battle to get there (to the state title game),'' Lowe said. "You can't get complacent and think it's just going to happen. You've got to earn it again. Just ask Alabama.''

It doesn't sound like it will be a problem at Deerfield.

"We have to forget about the 10-0,'' Heard said. "It doesn't mean anything if you don't win it all. And we work too hard to be complacent.''

The Knights won it all in 2008 and finished second a year ago, but this team may be more balanced than either of those teams, which were led by Tony Zenon, the best running back in all of GISA who is now at Georgia Tech. There are other differences.

"I think we're closer and our chemistry is better,'' Kinslow said. "We just want to play the game, and we have a lot of fight in us. We're undersized compared to a lot of teams, and that just gives the defense the drive to get after people.''

Kinslow isn't worried about the burden of possibly going 13-0.

"It's always up there,'' he said. "We know about it, but we don't talk about it. It's there in the back of your mind. But it's not a concern. We have a game (tonight), and then if we win we'll keep going. If we do win a state title (and go 13-0) we probably won't even think about it until he next day.''

It's a three-game season now, and Deerfield, which has been ranked No. 1 in the state for most of the season, will be at home for all three games as long as the Knights keep winning.

"The 10-0 doesn't matter,'' Cooper said. "It's the three games now. It's all about the trophy right now.''

Lowe said it feels even better to get into the playoffs this season, because in the past all four teams from a four-team region would make it to the postseason. It feels better to get in, and it also means any team you play will have earned a spot in the playoffs.

Still, everyone in GISA is looking at Deerfield and that 10-0 record.

"It's not an easy accomplishment to go 10-0,'' Lowe said. "We need to enjoy it, but you can't enjoy it. We're not at the final destination.''

Lowe and his kids believe they will get there.

"I think we've got as good of a chance as anyone,'' Lowe said. 'The playoffs are about doing the little things right. This is the fun part of the year. Our kids are excited. We'll be ready. You hate to say you expected to be here, but we did expect to be here.''