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PREP FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK: Unsurprisingly, Eagles rolling through Region 1-A

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

CAMILLA -- The Mitchell County Eagles are now 5-0 in Region 1-A after Friday's 50-20 win against Calhoun.

But don't count Mitchell County coach Dondrial Pinkins as one of those surprised at the team's success in its first year in the region after dropping down from Class AA this past offseason.

"I felt like going into this year we had the talent to do what we're doing right now, it was just a matter of whether we came out and played at the level we were capable of," said Pinkins, whose team can wrap up the region title Friday when it plays its biggest rival, Pelham. "And so far, the kids have."

Thanks to Modzelle Atkins' three TDs on Friday -- one rushing, one receiving and one on special teams -- the Eagles led, 29-6, at halftime, 50-14 after the third and had a running clock by the fourth quarter.

Atkins finished with 80 yards rushing on eight carries, 48 receiving and his special teams TD came when he recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for the Eagles' first score.

Georgia commit and Eagles WR Justin Scott-Wesley also had a TD on a 14-yard pass from Cedrick Spooner, who got the start under center for ailing starter Jesse Atkins.

"Jesse is nursing an ankle injury and we decided to sit him out this week," said Pinkins, who would normally turn to backup Derrick Davis to spell Atkins, but instead chose Spooner just before Friday's game. "I usually make (personnel) calls based on who has the best week of practice, and Cedrick looked good this week so we went with him."

Davis, who scored a rushing TD in the game, did see playing time when the offense sputtered a bit in the second quarter under Spooner, and Pinkins said "Derrick really got us going and back on track after that."

Jay Jenkins had an interception for the Eagles to go along with his 4 tackles and three pass deflections on defense for Mitchell, which closes out the regular season in two weeks at home vs. Terrell County.

Then come the playoffs, where things could get very interesting for the head coach, who earlier this year vowed to wear a blue dress and parade down Main Street in Camilla if the Eagles won the state title. The original promise was to wear the dress if Mitchell didn't finish better than 2-8, but the Eagles have long surpassed that mark.

Pinkins, meanwhile, said Saturday that he won't be shy to pay up - if that day comes.

"That's one bet I won't mind losing," he said.

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MILESTONE MEN: Despite not being 100 percent and playing through injuries, the dynamic running back duo at Randolph Clay hit a milestone in Friday's 21-12 loss to Miller County.

Johnny Foster -- who came into the game averaging 137 rushing yards per contest and 7.4 per carry -- had 128 yards on the ground and two touchdowns to pass the 1,000-yard mark (1,088), while Cardaryle Curry -- who came in at 110 per game and 9 per carry -- had 34 yards to pass the 800-yard mark (804).

"I'm not a big stat man, but I knew we had two pretty good backs," Randolph Clay head coach Daniel McFather said. "I just pulled (the stats) out (Thursday) and added them up and saw where they were. ... We talked a little bit about it (with them) and we put it all on the offensive line, because if they don't block, it's not going to happen, and (Foster) and Curry both knew that."

They might have hit those milestones earlier in the season, but Foster suffered a knee injury (Oct. 1 against Stewart County) and ankle injury (Oct. 8 against Terrell County), while Curry hurt his ankle against Terrell.

"Johnny and Curry are both real good kids. They worked hard and played hurt and got good yardage (against Miller)," said McFather, who estimated his runnings backs were both around 80 percent Friday. "We're going to keep therapy on the ankles and keep them in the whirpools and hopefully they'll get closer to 100 percent next week (against Calhoun County)."

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A RETURN TO REMEMBER: Not only was Juwan Jones' 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in Miller's win against Randolph-Clay on Friday the longest of his career, it was probably the senior's most memorable.

The Red Devils came out in the second half on a mission, as Johnny Foster cut a 13-0 Miller halfime lead to 13-6 with his 5-yard touchdown run halfway through the third quarter. But Jones returned the kickoff straight up the middle the very next play, thus stopping any momentum Randolph-Clay had.

"I wish we could've held off that kickoff return," Red Devils head coach Daniel McFather said. "We felt the momentum was on our side, but they just bounced right back. I thought we could drive back down and score again, then we would have went up, but it didn't happen that way."

It was a moment Jones will forever relish, but it only happened because he was prepared for it.

"We kind of worked on kickoff returns (in particular) this week," Miller County head coach Frank Killingsworth said. "They did a good job and (Jones) took it to the house."

The play also meant Pirates running back T.T. Barber, who had 16 carries for 126 yards in the first half, didn't have to touch the ball again until late in the third.

"We did what we had to do," said Barber, who finished with 155 rushing yards in the game and a score. "It was (nice to get a little break), though."

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CLASH OF THE TITANS: Talk about an epic showdown for a region championship. Deerfield and Westfield. Not much else needs to be said.

"We've been waiting for them all season," senior Walker Lanier said. "We're going to be ready."

Against five common GISA Region 1-AAA opponents, the undefeated Knights and undefeated Hornets' numbers are nearly identical. Deerfield has not yet faced Southland (season finale) and Westfield has yet to play Sherwood Christian (season finale).

Westfield has scored an average of 36 points per game against those common opponents, while Deerfield averaged 32 points per contest on offense. The Knights' defense has given up 7.4 points on average to the five common region foes, while Westfield allowed an average of 8.8 points.

The Knights, however, stake claim to a five-game winning streak against Westfield, including a win in the GISA Class AAA state championship in 2008. Deerfield last lost to the Hornets in 2005, the last time the Knights lost to a GISA school at home in the playoffs (excluding George Walton, which now plays in the GHSA).

Just getting to the playoffs in the newly aligned GISA Region 1-AAA football region was an achievement, head coach Allen Lowe said.

"Playing so many region games, just getting in the playoffs is big," Lowe said. "Now, the next step is to try to get the gravy and win this region."

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WHAT COULD'VE BEEN FOR BOBCATS: Early County knew that Friday night's game against state power Cook, ranked No. 4 in Class AA, was going to be a tough road to hoe, but early on, it looked like the Bobcats may just be up to the task.

Then came a problem that's plagued Early all season: a fumble.

After taking their opening drive down to the 10-yard line and looked to take an early lead, the Bobcats fumbled the ball and it was returned by Cook 90 yards for the score. Early would later give up a kickoff return for a TD -- and you simply can't spot a good team like Cook that many points.

Final: Cook 50, Early County 14.

Camery Flowers, however, had another solid game, scoring one of the team's only two TDs on a 9-yard run in the second quarter, followed a Ricardo Castro PAT. Castro was perfect on the night on PATs, the second of which came after Brandon Carter's 4-yard TD run in the fourth quarter as Early fell to 2-6 overall and 1-3 in Region 1-AA.

Carter was the team's leading rusher for the first time this season, finishing with 41 yards on four carries, while Devontay Spencer added an interception -- his second in as many weeks -- and Bakari Isom was the Bobcats' leading tackler (13).

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A TASTE OF THEIR OWN MEDICINE: You live by the no-huddle, you die by the no-huddle.

That's how Lee County felt after losing to Thomas County Central, 69-28, on Friday night. The Trojans, who have one of the most prolific offenses in Georgia, love to play a fast-pace game. But when you play up tempo football, it means your opponent has the potential to run more plays, too. That was part of the disaster against TCC, which ran some no-huddle as well and broke off several big plays in the rout.

"When you play the way do you have to be willing to win by a little or lose by a lot,'' Lee County coach Dean Fabrizio said after the game. "And tonight we lost by a lot.'

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JUST A COINCIDENCE?: Can you connect the dots between Americas-Sumter's success story this season and Mitchell County?

Both football programs are celebrating big years, and the feeling at Mitchell is the Eagles might be able to make a run at a state title. Whether it's an omen or not, Mitchell had members of it's 1992 state title team on hand last week during a big homecoming win against Randolph-Clay.

Michael Pollock, who was one of the players who helped Mitchell win it all in '92, was on hand. Of course, Pollock is the first-year coach at Americus-Sumter, where the Panthers have surprised everyone and stand tied with Cairo for first place in the Region 1-AAA race.

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AN IMPORTANT WIN: On paper, the game between Sherwood Christian and Southland Friday night was seen as a late-season game with the winner gaining an edge in the region.

To people familiar with the rivalry, the game was more about Sherwood getting the first win in the series since the two teams began playing each other.

Also, for many of the Knights' key players, Friday's game was the last time they could showcase their skills in front of their home crowd at Sam Smith Complex.

Seniors Phillip English, Terrance Burnette, Darren Akins, and Chris Roberts gave a performance for the ages in front of an inspiring crowd as Sherwood came on the winning end of a 33-27 nail-biter.

"I never got my hopes down. I always play to the end," said English, who rushed for 132 yards and two scores -- including a run where he was initially stopped behind the line, but broke free and ran for a 76-yard touchdown.

Burnette passed for three touchdowns, including a 10-yard dart to Vashon Gaines that put the Knights up with 22 seconds left in the game.

"It was a wild game but we kept our composure," said Burnette. "In tight games like this, you find out who has each other's back and after tonight, you saw that everybody had each other's back."

On the defensive side, Atkins and Roberts made every key play the Knights had. They lived in the backfield and combined for five sacks and eight tackles for a loss or no gain.

"We are proud of our Eagles," head coach Reggie Mitchell said. "Sometimes you need these kinds of games."

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Herald writers Danny Aller, Mike Phillips, Daniel Kay, Matt Stewart and Jimmie Haywood all contributed to this report.