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Revenge on Deerfield's mind vs. Stratford

After losing to Stratford earlier in the season, DWS coach Allen Lowe called it a wake up call. The two rematch tonight in Albany. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

After losing to Stratford earlier in the season, DWS coach Allen Lowe called it a wake up call. The two rematch tonight in Albany. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

ALBANY -- Read this carefully: Deerfield-Windsor is the underdog.

That's right. There's no other way to look at tonight's GISA Class AAA state semifinal game at Webb Memorial Stadium, where the defending state champs will play host to Stratford, the only team from Georgia to beat the Knights over the past two years.

The only team.

Want To Go, Listen or Follow Online?

WHO: Stratford (10-1) at Deerfield (10-2).

WHAT: GISA Class AAA Final Four.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today.

WHERE: Albany.

RADIO: 107.7 FM.

LIVE UPDATES: Go online to: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.

IF WIN: Will play the winner of Westfield-Tattnall on Nov. 25.

It happened in the second game of the season when Stratford (10-1) held on to end Deerfield's 14-game winning streak with a 14-10 win in Macon. The Knights (10-2) were stopped in the closing minutes on fourth down at the Stratford 2-yard line, falling just short.

"I'm definitely happy we're playing them,'' DWS senior running back and linebacker Quentin Heard said. "We felt we should have won that game, and now we get another chance to play them."

Heard is coming off a career-night. He rushed for 290 yards, including 230 in the second half, to lead Deerfield's 24-7 comeback win against Mount de Sales in the opening round of the playoffs last week.

There are a thousand ways you can analyze this game, but the overwhelming statistic is this one: Heard gained 290 yards last week after Deerfield was held to 12 rushing yards in the loss to Stratford. That included a 40-yard loss on a fumble, but it was a long night for the Knight's running game.

"Our running game definitely has to step up,'' Heard said. "We can't play the way we did the first time we played them. We have to make a statement every time we run the ball.''

The Knights have a balanced offense with QB Dallas Margeson throwing for 1,155 yards, while the running game produced 2,962 yards this season with Heard leading the way (1,225 yards on 142 carries (8.6 yards per carry) and 13 TDs, along with Gaughf Ivey (409 yards on 57 carries), and Kh'ron McClain (410 yards on 53 carries).

Still, Stratford stopped DWS in that first game.

"They outplayed us all night long,'' DWS coach Allen Lowe said of the first meeting with Stratford. "Up front they just knocked us off the ball.''

That's where Lowe feels his team has to win tonight. Statford brings a tough defensive line that gave DWS problems, and a big offensive line, which plays power, smash-mouth football. The Eagles lead all of GISA AAA in rushing with 3,511 yards this season. They have two running backs who have gained more than 1,000 yards.

Austin Simmons leads all GISA AAA rushers with 1,540 yards on 193 carries (7.97 yards per carry) and Ken Spears has gained 1,101 yards on 115 carries (9.57 yards per carry). They have combined to score 34 touchdowns.

"We have to play harder and get lower and do a better job of stopping their running game,'' DWS defensive tackle Matt Miller said. "We didn't know their plays before. We're more prepared this time.''

Stratford comes right at you and runs most of its stuff off-tackle, up the middle.

"They have some big guys up front, and they run up the middle a lot, because they know they can run right behind that line and get at least five yards every time,'' said Heard, who is one of DWS' best linebackers. "We've got to do a better job of stopping them.''

Stratford may have an edge, because of the win against Deerfield, but with a trip to the state title game on the line, the Knights are expected to respond to that earlier loss. This group of Deerfield seniors have been in the state title game the last three years.. Stratford last won a state title in 2004.

"We know everyone else is hoping to get to that game,'' Lowe said of Statford. "We have to play with emotion. We have to play like it was the biggest game we've ever played.''

That might not be a problem for the Deerfield kids.

"We have put what happened last year behind us,'' Heard said. "We can't look at the feeling we had last year. It's gone away. We know this is our team, and 2011 is our year, especially the seniors.

"I think losing to them helped us mature this year,'' he said. "It made us aware of some things and made us work harder, and made us step up. The seniors stepped up and all the young guys stepped up after that game. We're not the same team now. We are a lot more mature.''

Miller said the loss was a "wake up call,'' and he too felt the team was better for the loss.

But now everything is at stake.

"That helped us losing that game,'' said kicker Trey Puckett, who kicked a 43-yard field goal against Stratford. "We really didn't know what we had at the beginning of the year. That loss motivated us. We got a lot better. This isn't the same team.''

It was Puckett, whose 40-yard field goal at the gun beat Mount de Sales a year ago to send Deerfield into the state title game against Tattnal Square. Tattnal is playing Westfield tonight and the winner plays for the state title next week against the DWS-Stratford winner.

So what if it comes down to Puckett again?

"I hope it doesn't come down to that, but if it does, I'll be ready,'' Puckett said.