Early County coach Trey Woolf's program hasn't been this deep in the playoffs since 2006, and this team has all the makings to match that success or surpass it.
WHO: Early County (8-3) at Screven County (10-1).
WHAT: GHSA Class AA state playoffs, second round.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
LIVE UPDATE: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports
BLAKELY — Trey Woolf thinks about Early County’s 2006 season every now and then.
He remembers the way his senior class led the Bobcats to the Georgia Dome for a state semifinal six years ago, staying poised through every turn of the magical ride.
He remembers what it took to survive through the first three rounds of state, which included a 4-hour trip north in the quarterfinals.
When the 12th-year Early County coach looks at his 2012 senior class — which will lead the Bobcats into the second round of the Class AA playoffs Friday against Screven County — Woolf thinks about 2006 even more.
“Both of the teams had really good senior classes, just really good leadership in that senior class,” Woolf said. “We talked about the (2006 season) before our last game. It wasn’t about the Xs and Os. It was about how they carried themselves in 2006. That’s the kind of thing this team needs to learn how to do.”
Woolf then added, referring to last week’s win: “(And) they did that (last) Friday night.”
The No. 3 seed Bobcats (8-3) are coming off a 40-20 upset victory Friday against No. 2 Bleckley County (ironically, Early County began its 2006 playoff run with a 40-20 opening-round win, too) and will have to go on the road again this weekend to play No. 1 seed Screven County (10-1).
It will be a 5-hour road trip to Sylvania to play the Gamecocks, who were undefeated in Region 3-AA, have won eight in a row and are ranked No. 10 in the state poll.
The Bobcats are no stranger to facing Top 10 teams. Early County beat No. 7 Cook two weeks ago and nearly knocked off No. 5 Fitzgerald four weeks ago. The Bobcats’ only three losses this season are to three state powers: Fitzgerald, Class AAAAA Bainbridge and AA No. 2 state-ranked Brooks County.
Early, which is in the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and into the second round for the first time since 2006, has consistently been one of the top teams in Southwest Georgia this season and is peaking at just the right time.
“The biggest thing has been our senior class,” Woolf said. “They have done a good job leading us and doing what we ask them to do.”
Two of the biggest senior leaders have been Herald Dynamite Dozen quarterback Jacori Taylor and running back Ladonis Bryant — one of the best 1-2 combinations in Southwest Georgia. Taylor has completed 106 of 200 passes for 1,589 yards and 16 touchdowns and has rushed for 688 yards and six touchdowns, while Bryant has carried the ball 108 times for 860 yards and 11 TDs. Bryant also leads the team in receiving with 34 catches for 537 yards and four TDs.
They headline an offense that averages 27 points per game and has scored 40 or more points four times this season. They spread their offense out, put their playmakers in the open field and light up the scoreboard.
Early can also hurt opposing defenses with a number of different weapons, while Screven has just one trick up its sleeve: its running game.
“Offensively, that’s what they hang their hat on,” Woolf said. “It’s just old-fashioned, power football with big guys that can block and big guys that can run.”
The Gamecocks’ biggest weapon is 5-foot-10, 250-pound fullback Jeremy Johnson, who has gained 1,523 yards and rushed for 30 TDs this season for an offense that averages 265.8 yards per game on the ground.
Woolf said his team hasn’t seen anybody like Johnson all season.
“The biggest thing is that we will have to get four or five guys on him to bring him to the ground,” Woolf said. “We have to get some push up front and hopefully get him to go lateral. If he gets downhill on us, it will be tough.”
Of course, if he gets past Early County’s defensive line, then he runs into linebacker Brakari Isom, who leads the Bobcats with 148 total tackles.
Few hit harder than Isom and the Early County defense, which have been effective against strong rushing teams this season. In the season opener, the Bobcats shut down Class A power Seminole County, and on Sept. 14 they nearly upset Bainbridge and Herald Dynamite Dozen running back Terry Lewis.
“We are just trying to find out how to win games,” Woolf said. “We are preparing day-to-day and getting ready for Friday. The guys are really excited. We lost a lot of close games the last few years, and hopefully we have turned that corner.”
The winner of Friday’s game plays either Heard County or Greater Atlanta Christian Schools in the GHSA Class AA state quarterfinals.