Westover second-year football coach Octavia Jones is known as a master motivator, but this week he — and his players — fell completely quiet when it came to talking to the media or attending any pre-game pep rallies in an effort to focus on football. After all, tonight’s Region 1-AAA showdown at home with Crisp County is as big as it gets for the Patriots, who badly need a win to stay in the title race. (email@example.com)
ALBANY -- Shhhh.
Don't say a word.
Or if you're talking, quote the late Al Davis who said: "Just win, baby.''
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WHO: Crisp County (4-2, 2-0 in 1-AAA) at Westover (3-3, 1-1 in 1-AAA).
WHAT: Huge Region 1-AAA showdown.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today.
WHERE: Hugh Mills Stadium.
LIVE UPDATES: Go online, log on and follow the game at: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports.
That's the attitude this week at Westover, where it's all about football and all about beating Crisp County tonight.
The team isn't even going to the pep rally this afternoon. It may be homecoming week at Westover, but the only homecoming the Patriots players are interested in is the one in the end zone.
"No distractions,'' Westover coach Octavia Jones said after practice Wednesday. "They're on restriction this week. No talking to the media before the game. They aren't going to the pep rally. We'll let the school celebrate homecoming. We want our focus to be on football and to be on the game.
"It's the perfect week to focus on football. We just started a new nine-week grading period (so there are no finals), so there's nothing academically to distract us. We're not going to be thinking about homecoming. We're going to be focused on football. There's no letdown this week. We can focus all our energy on Crisp County.''
Jones is looking for a stretch run, and he knows it has to start tonight against a Crisp County team that has been one of the big surprises in Region 1-AAA.
The Cougars come into Hugh Mills Stadium tonight unbeaten in the region at 2-0 and appear to be one of the better passing teams in the area. They have a talented quarterback, big-time receivers, including Jontavius Carter, who has committed to play at the University of Miami, and a tough defense.
Westover is 1-1 in the region race with four games left, and the Patriots need to win two of the four to reach the playoffs.
Jones has a different equation on his agenda.
"We're not thinking about that (winning two of four),'' Jones said. "Our goal has been the same all year. Our goal is to win the region title. The only goal we've talked about all year is winning the region. Every game we play is big.''
Still, the scenario of Crisp County being unbeaten in the region, and the Patriots' urgency to get back into the upper tier in the region race, makes tonight's game crucial to Westover.
"This essentially is a playoff game for us,'' Jones said. "We control our own destiny. If we win out we can achieve our goal of winning the region title.''
Westover would need to win tonight and then beat state-ranked Cairo, which is 2-0 in the region, next Friday. Then the Patriots would face Americus-Sumter (2-1 in the region) on the road, and finish the season with city rival Monroe (1-2 in the region), which was impressive in a 27-6 win against Worth County last week to improve to 1-2 in the region race.
Crisp County has a chance to go undefeated in the region race.
The Cougars went 3-3 last year, but won all three games by a total of 14 points, beating Dougherty, 28-26, and Monroe, 14-13. They beat Westover 14-3.
They proved they still know how to win the close games last week when the Cougars scored with less than two minutes left in the game, and then scored on a two-point conversion pass to beat Americus-Sumter, 8-7.
That's a bad omen for Westover, which has had nothing but bad luck in close games this season. The Patriots are 3-3 overall and have lost those three games by a total of 10 points.
Jones knows that his team is just-that-close to being unbeaten.
"We look at our losses and it's about what we didn't do more than what the other teams did,'' said Jones, who had to shake his head over his team's Region 1-AAA loss to Worth two week's ago.
The Patriots (1-1 in Region 1-AAA) were down 21-12 at halftime after Worth County blocked a field goal attempt and scored on a 78-yard return. The Patriots came back but couldn't convert after scoring, and lost by a final of 23-18 when Worth added a safety in the final minute of the game.
"We gave it to them,'' Jones said. "Take away that blocked field goal and we win the game. It's been the story of all our losses. It comes down to something we haven't done.''
Crisp County has had a lot of good fortune against Westover, but history has nothing to do with tonight's game. Jones has created a winning environment at Westover, and Crisp County coach Lee Campbell told The Cordele Dispatch this week that he feels Westover is a different team this year.
"With nine returnees on defense alone, they're a lot better than they were last year," Campbell said. "In viewing them both in person and on video, I've been very impressed with their size and physical style of play. Their offensive line looks like it averages 275-280 pounds, making it the biggest we will have gone up against thus far.
"They've got a real good tailback, No. 6 (Dalviness Greene) who gets the ball most of the time as he runs tough and has good speed. They'll also occasionally give the football to the fullback (Shannon Saunders).''
Greene has carried Westover's offense all season, but he was knocked out of the Worth game midway in the third quarter with an ankle injury. The Patriots took advantage of the bye week, and Jones said Greene, and everyone else, was healthy.
Patriots quarterback T.J. Cromer, who has been out most of the season with a high ankle injury, was also cleared to play this week.''
The game may come down to strength against strength. Crisp likes to throw the ball, and beat Americus-Sumter with a 62-yard drive late in the game. Up until that point, Crisp had gained only 64 yards all night and didn't have a first down in the first half.
But QB Trevor Schealy completed 4-of-4 passes, accounting for all the yards on the winning drive and completed a 6-yard pass to Luke Whitman, and then hit Carter with the two-point conversion pass with 2:17 to win the game.
Americus-Sumter coach Michael Pollock said he wasn't surprised Crisp went for two points.
"They've been doing that all year,'' Pollock said. "They really don't kick after they score. They've got tall receivers and they like to throw the ball.''
Jones feels the same way.
"They utilize their strength,'' he said. "They've got a quarterback who slings the ball all over the field, and they've got tall receivers who can catch it.''
It could be strength against strength, because Westover has intercepted 11 passes in six games this season, and returned three for touchdowns. The Patriots defense has been tough on opponents all year, allowing only seven touchdowns in six games.
"Defensively, they base out of a 4-3 front and in (DT Chris Green) they have a player who last season was their leading tackler and this year is an (Albany Herald) Dynamite Dozen pick along with (receiver) Kenneth Towns. No. 43 (Don Mills) at middle linebacker is a pretty good player, too,'' Campbell said.
"They're not as big on defense as they are on offense, but they still have good size and run to the ball well,'' he added. "They'll blitz a little but what they like to do is keep at least seven players in the box. Their secondary does a pretty good job, too."
There should be a playoff game atmosphere tonight, because Crisp is unbeaten and should bring a large crowd to Albany, and it's homecoming for Westover.
"All in all, this is a huge region game for both teams and toward that end we've been preaching since starting the 1-AAA portion of our schedule that every week in essence represents a playoff situation that we've got to take one game at a time,'' Campbell said.
Jones has already made his point.
Silence has been golden at Westover.
"Everybody's healthy,'' Jones said. "We've got all our ammo. It will come down to what we do. We love it. We control our own destiny.''