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Unbeaten, No. 1 Westwood starts state title march tonight

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

CAMILLA -- The clock has been ticking pretty slowly at Westwood, where the Wildcats have arrived in the playoffs right on time.

They don't play the opening round of the GISA Class A playoffs until tonight, because both teams from Camilla -- Westwood and Mitchell County -- share the same stadium, and both made the playoffs and are at home. Mitchell County met Savannah Christian in the opening round of the GHSA Class A playoffs Friday night, while Westwood starts tonight against Curtis Baptist.

And the Wildcats can't wait.

"It seems like it will never get here,'' Taylor Bentley, a senior who starts on both sides of the line for Westwood, said during practice Wednesday. "I can't wait for it to get here. I haven't been sleeping a lot this week.''

This team is worth waiting for. It's been that kind of season at Westwood, where the Wildcats have captured the hearts of all their fans -- and then some. It's been a remarkable 10-0 run that included some heart-stopping wins at the beginning of the year, and some good-old-fashion hard work along the way.

And guess what? Westwood just got better and better. The Wildcats not only ran the table through the Region 1-A schedule, they owned the entire dining room.

The trick now is to forget about that perfect season.

"It's starting over. It's a whole new season,'' said Carleton Brooks, a senior lineman. "You get a fresh start in the playoffs, and being in the playoffs is a feeling you only get a few times in your lifetime.''

That's the idea at Westwood, where the kids in this program have a real sense of tradition and history. They know what winning it all would mean in Camilla, and no one needs to do the math. Everyone in Camilla knows the Wildcats are three victories away from a state title.

But even that can be a trap this time of year.

"You can't look forward,'' Bentley said. "It's not just focusing on one game (against Curtis Baptist), you have to play every play your hardest, because it could be your last.''

They have heard it all year, and the message is more than clear.

"We told them all during the season that we're playing 10, one-game seasons,'' Westwood coach Ross Worsham said. "Now we're playing three one-game seasons.''

That and a little dose of amnesia helps.

"You can't think about the 10-0 season,'' said sophomore Dylan Larkin, a two-year starter at center who stepped in last year as a freshman and solidified the Westwood offensive line. "You can't get a big head (because we're 10-0). You have to stay focused on what we have to do now. The 10-0 record really helped our confidence, but 10-0 also makes us a bigger target for other teams.''

It's been such an incredible ride for Westwood, which has seen a long list of players step up this season, from the Edore Brothers -- Jake, a senior, and J.T, a freshman -- who have led the running game, to Worsham's son, Mason, a junior quarterback who plays with maturity, confidence and one heck of a strong arm. John Vereen, who caught at least one touchdown pass in every game but one, has been his favorite target, while Daniel Hays, a linebacker who also runs the ball and makes receptions, is part of an offense that has scored 266 points in six region games. The defense, which consists of many of the same players, gave up only 54 points in those six games.

"It was a good ride getting here,'' Vereen said. "Whenever you go 10-0 it gets you even more prepared for the playoffs. We know (what is ahead of us). It's hard not to look forward to a state championship, but you can't do that. We know that. Our coaches have impressed that on us since the beginning of the season.

"We're in the playoffs. We just have to execute and finish the drill -- finish the drill and get it done.''

That ride gave Westwood the top seed and the home field tonight, but the Wildcats had a bye week before the playoffs started, making that clock slow down to the postseason even more.

"I think the week off helped a lot,'' the coach said. "If you're on a roll, you want to keep going, but after 10 games it helped us heal some bumps and bruises. They seem to be a little fresher now.''

It is a fresh start that Westwood is looking for tonight, and being home should help.

"I think the atmosphere will be outrageous,'' Bentley said. "We've been waiting for this.''

Curtis (3-7)is the fourth-seed from Region 1-A and won a tiebreaker with David Emanuel to earn the playoff spot. But records don't mean much now.

"Every team is dangerous,'' Ross Worsham said. "That's the scary part of this time of year. You're a turnover or two away from being knocked out of the playoffs.''

Still, Worsham knows better than anyone just how special this season has been, and just how hungry his kids are to win it all.

"We've talked about the opportunity they have,'' Worsham said. "They're proud of being 10-0 and of being the region champs, but that's not the ultimate goal. They're not satisfied.''