Herald High School Beat Writer Mike Phillips
You want a prediction to start the season off?
How about this? If Westwood wins tonight in Macon, the Wildcats — A.K.A. the Wonders — will not lose a game all year.
That’s right. Believe it. They won’t face a better team all year than the one they meet in Macon tonight. Stratford was the state runner-up last year in GISA Class AAA, and is one of the best in their class and all of GISA.
So that’s what Westwood faces.
The Wildcats just moved up from Class A to AA this year, and after winning back-to-back state titles and 26 games in a row, coach Ross Worsham put it all on the line in last week’s opener against two-time Class AA state champ Piedmont, which also had a 26-game winning streak.
No problem. Even with a backup at quarterback and one at running back for most of the second half, Westwood dominated the line of scrimmage, made two clock-eating drives totaling 16:03 of the 24-minute second half and won, 40-21.
Now these kids face a big, physical team from Stratford that lives on the run by simply blowing the other guys off the ball.
Can you say, no-quit? How about determined? That’s what the kids from Camilla are all about, and that’s why while everyone in the state will be picking Stratford tonight, I’m taking Westwood.
The Wonders didn’t win 27 in a row by reading headlines about the other guys. They really don’t care. Honest. It’s all about making plays no one thought you could make with these kids and their coach, who has pushed the envelope right through the ceiling with a schedule that demands more of his kids than ever.
Stratford’s bigger and deeper in numbers, and all that may be a factor in a game that will be won up front, where the grit and guts and the sweat all mingle and the wear and tear will test both teams. Westwood’s kids have been here before, undersized and underdogs.
Just where they want to be.
I’m taking the Wonders.
PREDICTION: Westwood 28, Stratford 21
TORNADOES TESTED RIGHT AWAY: There are some other big games tonight. Monroe will be tested on the road against Brooks County, which might just win the Class AA title. Sure, Calhoun and Fitzgerald and others have great AA teams, but this could be Brooks’ year.
Still, I think Monroe will avenge last year’s 21-12 loss to Brooks to start what might just be the best year in Monroe’s history. The Tornadoes have never been past the second round in the playoffs, but they will get there this season. There are three four-year starters in OL Hakeem Porter, LB Anthony Smith and DB Jawaski Randle, and Charles Stafford is one of the best quarterbacks in Georgia.
Sir Charles opens it up tonight, throws three TDs, and Monroe wins.
PREDICTION: Monroe 26, Brooks County 17
INDIANS VS. BOBCATS: In the impossible-to-pick column, we have Seminole County at Early County. I’ve been voting for both of these teams in The AP’s Top 10 state poll (Seminole in Class A and Early in Class AA).
Seminole, which would have won the public school state title if there had been one last year, lost everybody, but Alan Ingram knows when to zig when the other guy zags, and Ingram has some speed to zig with this year. The Indians will not only be in the playoffs again, but they will make some noise in the new public/private split format. Watch out for new RB Javontae Smith.
But nobody stops the run like Early County, and QB Jacori Taylor and tailback Ladonis Bryant are going to make the Bobcats a contender to win Region 1-AA — which, by the way, is the toughest AA region in Georgia.
PREDICTION: Early County 21, Seminole County 20.
ALBANY UPSET SPECIAL?: Albany High opens on the road at Greenville, and Emmanul Bryd, who completed a staggering 83 percent of his passes last season, opens up the airways and starts his season with a big night, and the Indians open with a win on the road.
PREDICTION: Albany 28, Greenville 20
TROJAN BOWL: Lee County will win the Trojan Bowl, and put up some numbers against an improving Dougherty team that needs a little time to grow under new coach Corey Joyner, who was the perfect choice for that job.
PREDICTION: Lee County 35, Dougherty 27
DEERFIELD CROSSES STATE LINES: Deerfield-Windsor is once again playing Florida powerhouse North Florida Christian, and the game is in Tallahassee. Coach Allen Lowe put this game on the schedule for one reason: so his kids will become better. And that’s my prediction. The Knights will head back to Albany a much better team — win or lose — for playing in the game.
PREDICTION: North Florida Christian 21, DWS 14
SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER: Westover steps up in class Saturday at Hugh Mills to face Tift County, which is now in Class AAAAAA — the new largest classification in the state. The number of As won’t bother the Patriots, who look like a Class AAAA playoff team this season.
PREDICTION: Westover 17, Tift 13
Rest of the Best
Tiftarea 21, Sherwood Christian 14
Cook 28, Worth 27
Crisp County 21, Turner 7
Americus-Sumter 28, Kendrick 7
Calhoun County 20, Berrien 7
Hancock Central 20
Clinch County 21, Mitchell 20
Pelham 45, Baconton Carter 14
Miller County 32, Schley 21
Marian County 21, Terrell County 14
SGA 24, Windsor, 14
Terrell Academy 35, Randolph Southern 14
Crisp Academy 45,
Nathanael Greene 0
Southland 24, Brookwood 7