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SATURDAY NIGHT PREP FOOTBALL: Red Devils banged up heading into duel with Eagles

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

CAMILLA -- Punchless.

Isn't that what you call a team that has lost its 1-2 punch? They're not looking for catchy names at Randolph-Clay this week. They're looking for help.

"We've got to have young kids step up,'' said Randolph-Clay coach Daniel McFather, whose team has been hit with enough ankle, knee and hand (yes hand) injuries to knock out any small school program in the state.

The Red Devils may have the best Class A running game in Georgia, but the kids they call Thunder and Lightning have both been hit by a bolt of injuries.

Johnny Foster (Thunder) has been hobbled by a knee and an ankle injury, and Cardaryle Curry (Lightning) is out with a an ankle injury.

"We've lost our 1-2 punch,'' McFather said. "And we've got a lot of other kids who are out right now with injuries. I've been in this business 23 years and I've never seen anything like this.''

It couldn't have come at a worse time for the Red Devils, who were unbeaten until Curry and Foster, who combine for an average of almost 400 yards per game, hit the bench last week in a 26-13 loss to Terrell County. Curry ran the ball three times, and Foster left with 100 yards in the third quarter.

Now comes the tricky part. Randolph-Clay (2-1 in Region 1-A and 5-1 overall) has to face Mitchell County tonight in Camilla in what was shaping up to be a classic showdown.

"I looked at this game two weeks ago and I was thinking what a big game it was going to be,'' McFather said. "I really thought we might come into this game unbeaten and they are unbeaten in the region. It's still a big game, and we're going there to win it. We will lay it all on the line.''

Mitchell County is one of the best Class A teams in Georgia, and leads the Region 1-A race with a perfect 3-0 record. The Eagles (5-1) have only lost to Class AA state power Thomasville and are coming off an impressive 32-12 win against Miller County, one of the top Class A teams in this part of the state.

Mitchell is on a mission, and will be sky-high tonight because it's homecoming, and because the Mitchell kids have been pointing to this game against Randolph-Clay for weeks.

If Mitchell wins, the Eagles will likely run the table in their last three games against Pelham, Calhoun and Terrell County, which is lurking in the wings and moved back into contention for a playoff spot with last week's win against R-C.

A loss by Randolph-Clay tonight would leave the Red Devils at 2-2 in the region with a huge game next week against Miller County, which is 3-1 in 1-A. They face Calhoun and then end the season against Seminole in a game that might determine the final playoff spot in the region.

"Hopefully, we can get healthy over the next two weeks and then finish strong and get into the playoffs,'' McFather said. "And then peak at the right time.''

It's not only the loss of the two running backs that has McFather worried. His fullback Daniel Mande is out with a knee injury and his outside linebacker Khiry Thomas broke his hand in the Terrell County game and is out for the season. James Jackson, a two-way starter on the line is out with an ankle injury and defensive tackle Morris Harman has an ankle injury.

"All you can do is go from the whirlpool to the ice to therapy -- and pray,'' McFather said. "We're just pretty beat up right now.''

Curry, who is also the team's best linebacker, is out for tonight, but McFather isn't sure about Foster, who tried to stay off his bad ankle this week. Foster didn't practice at all, and told McFather on Friday that he was "feeling a little better.''

In his place will be Donald Bolden, a freshman who has played in one-sided routs this season but will have a chance to make a name for himself tonight.

He will have to do it against a Mitchell defense, which has not given up more than 14 points to anyone except Thomasville and has allowed only 18 points in two region games.

The two teams are complete opposites in style and philosophy. Randolph-Clay likes to run, run and run some more, while Mitchell loves to spread the field and beat you in the air or designed runs by quarterback Jesse Atkins, who ran for 123 yards on 11 carries, scored twice and threw a TD pass to help beat Miller last week.

And Mitchell has receiver Justin Scott-Wesley, who is literally the fastest football player in Georgia, and one of the fastest 100-meter runners in the nation. Every team has to double team Scott-Wesley, who has committed to Georgia. Tonight's matchup between Scott-Wesley and Randolph-Clay's Emmanuel Clay, who just came back from a season-long knee injury, should be one of the best of the season.

"We know Mitchell is a real good football team,'' McFather said. "I'm not complaining. You play with the hand you're dealt."