Herald High School Writer Mike Phillips
I’ve been here almost three years and this is the first GHSA playoff game in Albany, so you can see why they have signs about Westover being at home tonight at Hugh Mills against Jonesboro.
This is the first Westover team to host a playoff game, and they’re pretty excited about it in Northwest Albany, where Octavia Jones has rewritten history at the school. In three years, Jones has taken the Patriots from the bottom half of the region to the top half. Their only region loss was to Cairo, which may be headed for the Georgia Dome. The Syrupmakers are going to make a run at the state title — again.
Westover (7-3) is going to make its own run, and it starts tonight with a win against Jonesboro. That’s right, the same Jonesboro team that beat Westover, 34-12, back on Sept. 7.
This is not the same Westover team. Dynamite Dozen linebacker Don Mills didn’t play that night, and neither did Shannon Saunders, who is Westover’s most versatile player. It’s difficult to list a position for Saunders, who plays linebacker, receiver and also runs the ball. Those two are both impact players, and Jonesboro will find out just how much they can impact a game tonight.
Defensive end Josh Burton was out that night, and so was defensive back Nytrellis Ross. But it’s not just having a healthy team on the field. Westover is different. Jones has changed the culture there, changed the mentality and changed the way the kids who play football feel about themselves.
Jones has them believing, and any coach can tell you that’s more than half the battle, especially in a program that hasn’t had much success (let’s say, like four winning seasons in its history).
That was the mountain Jones had to climb, and that’s why his kids will be sky-high tonight.
I can guarantee a Westover win if Cameron Sutton misses the bus out of Jonesboro. If you’re going to the game, Sutton will be easy to spot (even you don’t know he’s wearing No. 7). He’s that good. He’s one of the best players in Georgia, and it’s a shame he has committed to Tennessee instead of the Bulldogs.
He’s a home wrecker, the kind of player who can beat anyone on their home field. But he won’t beat the Patriots tonight. Sutton, who is a defensive back who smothers, a receiver who seems to always be in the open and at times a running back out of the Wildcat, will have his moments. He’s a highlight film all by himself. But Westover will prevail, and the Patriots will do it the old fashioned way — pounding the ball and beating Jonesboro up front. They’re going to need a game ball for the offensive line after this one, and they’re going to need to put Dalviness Greene’s name on a second game ball, because Greene is going to carry the ball and the Patriots right into the second round of the playoffs.
He’s already had a season to remember, breaking the school’s rushing record with 1,460 yards. He will get at least 100 more tonight. When The Herald puts its list together for the Player of the Year, Greene’s name will be on it. But he would rather have a win tonight. He’ll get one.
Prediction: Westover 31, Jonesboro 28
AGAINST ALL ODDS: While Westover is at home, Monroe will be on the road against Griffin, the only team to beat Jonesboro (9-1). The Bears won 34-33 that night,and that’s why they’re the No. 2 team out of Region 4-AAAA and at home tonight. They’re also the No. 5-ranked team in the Class AAAA state poll.
Griffin (9-1) runs the spread offense and QB Jaquez Parks has thrown for more than 2,000 yards and 18 touchdowns. Monroe has the answer in Dynamite Dozen quarterback Charles Stafford, who has thrown for 2,426 yards while sitting out most of the second half in four of Monroe’s games. Stafford says he isn’t looking at the game as a showdown of quarterbacks and will just play his game. He is so calm and cool and collected, it’s hard to believe he’s just a junior. He throws the football like he’s already in college.
Stafford says Monroe’s defense will win the game for the Nadas, and he’s right. I talked to the kid they call Peterman (crazy nickname but a heck of a defensive lineman) this week and he says he feels like he’s going to have a big game. If he does, it could be a long night for Griffin.
Peterman (his real name is Cortez Banks) has 10 sacks this year. If he gets a few more tonight, Monroe will win.
Monroe coach Charles Truitt has told his kids in the secondary that the game is on them, and Jawaski Randle says that’s the way he likes it. Randle’s one of my favorite players. I love the way he plays the game, and he’s the best quote in town. He’s the kid who talked about getting fired up to play and coming out fighting and scratching and like a raccoon in the corner.
Truitt actually used Randle’s raccoon quote in a pep talk to his kids before a game this year. To appreciate the quote you have to watch the way Randle plays the game. Nobody makes a better one-on-one open-field tackle than Randle, and he’ll be tough to beat deep tonight.
There’s another reason I like Monroe in this game — Dynamite Dozen linebacker Anthony Smith. He’s the best linebacker I’ve seen play this year, and I like his heart as much as his hit.
All the odds are against the Nadas, who will travel 135 miles and play in front of a packed house against a program full of tradition and talent. No one in Georgia will give them a chance. That’s another reason I’m picking them. Call me crazy (just don’t call me Peterman). Crazy like a fox. Well, make that a raccoon.
Prediction: Monroe 20, Griffin 14
BIG NIGHT AT DEERFIELD: It’s the playoffs so every game is bigger than life, but Deerfield is playing Tattnall Square in the opening round of the GISA Class AAA playoffs tonight at Webb Memorial, and that makes the game even bigger. That’s Tattnall Square, the defending state champs and longtime DWS rival, a program that always seems to run into the Knights in the state semifinals or finals in baseball, basketball and definitely in football.
The Knights (10-1) beat Tattnall, 20-19, earlier this year and will need to play their best game of the season just to get by the first round. I never expect anything less. The DWS defense has been too good this season, and the numbers would be much better if the games were closer. There have been a number of games when opponents scored on the Knights, but not on the first team defense.
That big D will dictate tonight’s game, and the Knights will score enough behind the running of Dynamite Dozen tailback Kh’Ron McClain, who leads all of GISA in rushing with 1,704 yards on 143 carries (an insane 11.91 average) and 20 touchdowns. The defense is led by Nick Michas, who leads all of GISA with 93 tackles, and Matthew Fox, who leads GISA with 10 sacks. He also has 81 tackles.
It’s an impossible draw in the first round for DWS, but that will just make winning feel that much better. After all, it’s Tattnall Square.
Prediction: Deerfield 24, Tattnall Square 10
LIGHTING UP THE SCOREBOARD: They might be playing until midnight in Fayetteville, where Lee County’s wide-open offense meets No. 1 seeded Whitewater, which can also put up points like its Madden Football. No one thinks the Trojans have a chance in this game against a Whitewater team that has won nine in a row. But after watching Lee come back from a 42-7 deficit and score 35 inspiring points to knot up last week’s game at Bainbridge, 42-42, I wouldn’t put anything past Dean Fabrizio’s kids.
Stephen Collier has grown up so much this season at quarterback, by next fall the big-time colleges will be all over him. He’s coming off a 386-yard, five-TD night. Oh yeah, he also ran for a touchdown last week.
We don’t even know how good this kid can be. We do know how incredible Kenneth Hurley is. He’s just amazed everyone who follows Lee County football, and after rushing for more than 1,200 yards this season, Hurley caught 10 passes for 212 yards and three TDs last week.
It’s not going to be easy, but I think the kids from Leesburg can pull this one out. They might need a Hail Hurley to do it, but I’m picking them in the upset of the week.
Prediction: Lee County 45 (that’s what the Trojans average), Whitewater 42.
ONE-GAME SEASON: Westwood’s Wildcats have to hit the road against Edmund Burke, which was the GISA Class AA state runner-up a year ago and a big favorite tonight. But Ross Worsham’s kids, who won 26 in a row and back-to-back state titles before moving up to AA this year, know as much about winning in the playoffs as anyone. Worsham calls the playoffs “a one-game season,” and after winning in the first round last week, Westwood QB Mitch Good said: “We’ve got three one-game seasons to go.’’ That’s what it will take to win a AA state title. Look for J.T. Edore and Chason Worsham to both have big nights tonight, and for Good to be as good as he needs to be. The Wonders will win tonight’s one-game season.
Prediction: Westwood 30, Edmund Burke 24
BEST OF THE REST: There are going to be some other surprises tonight. Bainbridge is the most dangerous road team in all of Class AAAAA, and Early County is the most underrated Class AA team in the state. Bainbridge will shock No. 2 seed Union Grove, and Early will hammer No. 2 seed Beckley County on the road.
Here are the rest of tonight’s predictions:
Bainbridge 17, Union Grove 10
Early County 35, Bleckley County 14
Stockbridge 28, Worth County 21
Dawson Street 26, Crisp Academy 22
Thomas Jefferson 30, Randolph Southern 28