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SUNDAY PREP FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: DWS hero Puckett blocked out missed kicks before game-winner

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- How confident was Deerfield that Trey Puckett would kick a 40-yard field goal as time expired to beat Mount de Sales on Friday night in the GISA Class AAA state semifinals?

The members of the team were all kneeling along the sideline, holding hands as Puckett lined up for the field goal.

"Rhett Cooper was a couple of players down from me, but I could hear him talking about what we were going to do to celebrate after Trey made the field goal,'' Deerfield running back and cornerback Davis Moore said after the game, which DWS won, 30-27. "That's how confident (Cooper) was. We all believed he was going to make it.''

Cooper, who had another big night at linebacker, told Puckett earlier that he would make a big field goal. Puckett's 45-yard field goal attempt late in the third quarter feel short -- as did his first extra point of the game -- and Cooper came up to the junior kicker right after the second miss, and told Puckett that he would have another chance to make a big field goal -- and promised Puckett that he would make it.

"I knew he would get another chance and I knew he would make it,'' Cooper said. "That's the thing about this team. We all believe in each other. When he went out there (for the game-winning field goal) there was no doubt in my mind he was going to make it.''

The key for Puckett? Amnesia.

"I just had to forget everything,'' he said. "I had to put everything out of my mind and think about one thing: making a good kick.''

He did. His 40-yarder split the uprights and sailed well beyond the end zone. It likely could've gone for 50.

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LOCKDOWN DEFENSE:

The state semifinal victory came down to a last-second field goal, but Deerfield sent a message early in the game to Mount de Sales, which was averaging more than 45 points a game and had scored 48 points or more in nine games.

It took Deerfield just three plays to score on Mount de Sales. Quentin Heard returned the opening kickoff to the DWS 38, and Banks Kinslow hit Moore with an 18-yard pass on the second play from scrimmage. Then fullback James Tyson broke free for a 38-yard TD run to open the scoring.

The Deerfield did something no team had done all season. The Deerfield defense stopped Mount de Sales, which had scored on its first possession in every game this season.

Another key stat for Deerfield was the way the Knights contained Mount de Sales fullback Chris Swain, who was averaging 15.6 yards per carry. DWS coach Allen Lowe had preached all week about how the Knights had to stop big plays, specifically Swain.

Swain did manage to gain 101 yards on 22 carries (4.59 average), but his longest gain of the night was just 17 yards (a little more than his average) and Deerfield stopped Swain six times for either no gain or a loss. Swain scored twice, but he also lost two fumbles. The first was recovered by Cooper and the second was recovered by Kinslow, who also plays safety.

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SIGN OF THE TIMES:

Deerfield might not only have one of the best football teams in GISA, but the kids at the school might be the most creative in Georgia. Give them credit for the sign of the year.

If you follow Deerfield, you know all about the Knights' offensive line that plays in shifts and who call themselves "Thunder and Lightning.''

Well, on Friday night a large sign was hanging on the fence beyond the south end zone that read: "Brontophobia -- Fear of Thunder and Lightning.''

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FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING:

It's difficult to believe Deerfield-Windsor and Tattnall Square have never met in a GISA Class AAA state title game, but when they square off this week for the state championship at Webb Memorial Stadium, it will be a first.

No team has been as dominant recently as Deerfield, which is heading for its third consecutive state title game, and no team has won more GISA Class AAA titles than Tattnall, which has 10 state crowns, beginning with a three-year run from 1988 through 1990. The Trojans have won three in this decade (2001, 2006 and 2007).

Deerfield, which won the state title in 2002 and again in 2008 (but lost to George Walton in 2009), has met Tattnall in the state semifinals four times. The Knights beat Tattnall, 14-3, on their way to the 2008 state title, but fell to Tattnall in the semifinals in 2007, 2003 and in 1999.

The teams have played only 15 games against each other. Tattnall owns a 11-3-1 edge, but Deerfield has won two of the last three, including a 39-21 win during the regular season last year.

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WESTWOOD'S NEED FOR SPEED:

There will be a lot of talk about speed this week in Camilla. Westwood has it. Memorial Day may have a little more.

The two teams meet Friday in Savannah for the GISA Class A state title.

Westwood's defense, coming off a 54-13 rout of Briarwood in the GISA Class A semis, will likely learn to find and hit the number two come Friday -- Memorial Day's quarterback Ty Latson (No. 2) and running back Lamir Cohens (No. 22). Both are considered to be among the fastest players in the GISA.

"They've probably got three or four guys that have got more speed than anybody else in the GISA," Wildcats head coach Ross Worsham said. "It's not realistic to shut somebody like that out. You've got to slow them down and control the ball a little bit."

Memorial Day has used speed to win back-to-back state titles in GISA Class AA the last two years before enrollment numbers declined and dropped the Blue Thunder (10-2) to Class A this year. But the Wildcats (12-0) believe they can run with anybody.

"We've got to match speed with speed," senior tight end John Vereen said. "We played with (Class AAA) Sherwood. We played with (Class AA) SGA. I think we can."

Memorial eliminated Terrell Academy Friday, 37-22, three weeks after Westwood had beaten the Eagles, 24-14, to win the region title. Worsham hoped Terrell's physical style of play left somewhat of a toll on Memorial.

"Sounds like Terrell played them mighty tough," Worsham said after hearing the final score from the Memorial-Terrell game. "Maybe Terrell beat on them a little bit."

Briarwood head coach John Osborne endured a 42-0 loss to Memorial in region play in the regular season and then was eliminated from the playoffs by Westwood. He said after Friday's game he thought Westwood would win the state title.

He broke it down as such: "Westwood has more power. I believe they can (match Memorial Day's speed) expect for maybe one person, 22 (Cohens). We're not slow but (Westwood) made us look slow. I think Westwood's team speed is faster than anybody Memorial has played.

"You can't scheme for Westwood. You can't load one side (of the line) because Westwood can go where they want."

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WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN FOR SGA:

Edmund Burke (8-3) was able to escape Damascus with a 15-14 win against Southwest Georgia Academy (8-2), but what's equally stunning is how close the Warriors were to a 28-0 romp.

Here are the plays that doomed SGA, along with some acknowledgments from the other team's coach, Buddy Sorrow:

1. First quarter, 1:06 left: Southwest Georgia marches 64 yards down the field to the 3-yard line, where running back Taylor Tabb runs to his left and extends his right arm to score as he is tackled. The ball is jarred loose as he hits the ground in the end zone, resulting in a fumble that the Spartans recovered for a touchback -- and a touchdown taken away from SGA.

"They're a real good football team," Sorrow said of SGA.

2. Second quarter, 6:51 left: Edmund Burke's Dawson Atkinson intercepts Warriors quarterback Dillon Driver at the Spartans' 29-yard line. Had the pass been complete to its intended receiver, the Warriors would have been in great position to score.

"We'd been worrying about them throwing all night because of the formations they get in," Sorrow said.

3. Third quarter, 6:07 left: Edmund Burke's Alex Sturkie makes the first big-yardage play of the night, catching a 31-yard pass from QB Logan Christian. Three plays later, he reaches around the defending Driver to snag a 16-yard pass with one hand and barely holds on as the two fall into the end zone. Had he not made the amazing catch, the Spartans would have stayed down, 7-0, at that point.

"They were shutting us down on about everything we did (before those plays)," Sorrow said.

4. Fourth quarter, 2:05 left: After SGA's 86-yard scoring drive that lasted more than nine-and-a-half minutes and put the team up 14-7, the Spartans score on a 47-yard pass from Christian to Atkinson just two plays after getting the ball at their own 44-yard line on the kickoff. The especially-gut-wrenching fact about the play is the fact that Atkinson caught the ball around the 18-yard line, but the defending Driver gave him a soft push, probably because it looked like there was no way Atkinson could stay on his feet after the catch. But he did, and there was nobody between him and the end zone.

"The play we scored the touchdown on to go ahead was tackle-eligible," Sorrow said.

5. Fourth quarter, 2:05 left: With Southwest Georgia Academy players and fans still recovering from the sudden touchdown, the Spartans pull ahead, 15-14, with a quick toss from Christian to Atkinson for the two-point conversion.

"We were going to either live or die with that play," Sorrow said.

And those were the big ones. The Warriors also had other drives stopped by sacks, failed fourth-down conversions and interceptions, but as SGA head coach David Bell said multiple times after the game, "that's part of it."