Seminole County coach Alan Ingram's Indians host a 5-5 Commerce team in the first round of the GHSA Class A state playoffs Friday.
WHO: No. 13 seed Commerce (5-5) at No. 4 Seminole County (8-2)
WHAT: Opening round of the GHSA Class A state playoffs.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
DONALSONVILLE — Seminole County quarterback Jakhari Martin was hearing it from everybody.
The Indians were too young and inexperienced ... They lost too much talent and too much depth to be any good this season ... There was no way they were going to win.
Of course, Martin didn’t believe any of it.
“I was telling everybody that we would be good, but nobody would believe me,” Martin said Monday. “But that’s what motivated us, to prove everybody wrong.”
The Indians (8-2) aren’t flying under the radar any longer. They have won seven straight games, finished undefeated in Region 1-A and are the No. 4 seed in the state playoffs, which begin Friday at home against No. 13 Commerce.
It’s the first year the public and private Class A teams have been separated into two different brackets, seemingly making the road to a state championship easier for public schools like Seminole. But that’s not how Indians coach Alan Ingram is looking at things — not with a youthful team that doesn’t have enough experience to look past Friday night.
“There are 16 teams in this,” Ingram began, “so we are just looking at this like it’s a second-round game. We passed the first test, which was a bye last week, and that means we are in the second round. You just have to take it one game at a time.”
It’s cliché, but it’s been working this season for the Indians, who surprised even Ingram by winning the school’s fourth region title and second in a row after losing stars Chris Brown, The Herald’s 2011 Player of the Year, and Dee Virgin from last year’s team that produced the best season in SCHS history when it reached the state quarterfinals before losing — to a private school, no less.
That’s right, the Indians’ success this year even caught their coach off guard.
“We don’t have any superstars. Everybody is working together and playing as hard as they can, and really we have been overachieving,” Ingram said. “Our skill players aren’t as athletic or as experienced as they have been. On paper, our secondary and linebackers are the weakest we have had. There’s no experience there. But the thing about these kids is that they are playing together. They believe in each other, believe in the coaches and believe in the system.”
They have been believing from day one.
“I knew we could win,” Martin said. “They were saying we were young and not ready to win yet. But we’re right on time.”
Two weeks ago, the Indians weren’t even sure if they would make the playoffs under the new power-rating system that ranks Class A teams on a number of different criteria. But a region title gave Seminole an automatic bid into the playoffs, and now the Indians look like one of the teams to beat in the 16-team field.
They’ve rushed for 2,799 yards and 38 touchdowns this season and have been led by Martin, who has 804 yards and 12 TDs on 127 carries. Daquan Hamlet (580 yards, 9 TDs), Thomas Aiken (571 yards, 6 TDs) and Javonte Smith (463 yards, 7 TDs) have also fueled the Indians’ rushing attack, with could go punch-for-punch with Commerce’s backfield.
“They line up and run at you just like we do,” Ingram said. “I talked to their coach on the phone (Monday) and he said, ‘We don’t throw the ball.’ I said, ‘Well, neither do we. Your stay in Donalsonville will probably be a short one. It could be a quick ball game.’ “
While Seminole hasn’t lost since Sept. 14, Commerce (5-5) is 1-5 in its last six games. Each of those losses were to private school teams in the Tigers’ tough Region 8-A schedule, and four of the wins were against schools in larger classes, so Ingram said Commerce’s .500 record is deceiving.
“They are impressive looking on offense,” Ingram said. “They have a lot of speed on the offensive line and execute well. They move the ball on everybody.”
It has taken a lot to move the ball on the Indians this season. During their seven-game winning streak, they allowed just 8.7 points per game and had a pair of shutouts against Calhoun County and Miller County.
Fifteen players have 15 or more tackles for Seminole, including defensive lineman Alex Koonce, who leads the team with 63, and linebacker Brendan Kimble, who has 56.
If Seminole wins Friday it will host the winner of the Dooly County-Turner County game in the state quarterfinals.