While Miller County will be worried about stopping Wilkinson County's high-flying passing attack when the two teams meet in the first round of the Class A state playoffs Friday, the Warriors had better be worried about trying to slow down the Pirates' 1,000-yard rusher this year, Marvin Grant.
WHO: Wilkinson County (7-3) at Miller County (8-2).
WHAT: GHSA Class A state playoffs, opening round.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday.
COLQUITT — Frank Killingsworth isn’t planning on just letting Wilkinson County throw the ball all over his Miller County defense Friday.
But the Pirates coach also wouldn’t be surprised if it happens when the two teams clash in the opening round of the Class A state playoffs.
“They will get some points,” said Killingsworth, whose team is the No. 8 seed and hosts the opening round against the No. 9-seeded Warriors. “Don’t get me wrong, I would love to shut them out. But with their athletic ability, they will get their points. If you throw a piece of paper at the waste basket enough times, sooner or later it will go in.”
And Wilkinson County has binders full of paper ready to crumple up and toss Miller County’s way.
“They throw it everywhere,” Killingsworth said. “These folks don’t run the ball. They are used to long ball games.”
The Warriors, the No. 9 seed, come to Colquitt on Friday and will bring quarterback David Whipple and their high-powered, stop-us-if-you-can offense with them. They average 42.6 points per game, and Whipple — who was 2nd-Team All-State last season — is coming off a regular-season finale against Warren County in which he led his team to a 60-0 victory.
Of course, Wilkinson County hasn’t seen too many defenses as good as Miller’s, which is allowing just 13.4 points per game and hasn’t had a team score more than 26 points against it this season.
“They don’t scare us at all,” Miller County senior defensive end David Sisson said. “We just have to keep some pressure on the quarterback, keep him contained and not let him get those long passes off and hurt us with the big play.”
Whipple has been torching defenses all season with the big play.
“Everything runs through him,” Killingsworth said. “They drop back to throw it probably 90 percent of the time, and he can beat you with his arm and his legs. They just throw it everywhere. It’s no huddle, and everything is sped up.”
It won’t be the first time Killingsworth has seen a Whipple.
Whipple’s cousin, Xavier, was Wilkinson County’s quarterback in 1999 when the Warriors and Pirates met in the second round of the playoffs, and Miller County escaped with a 32-26 victory on the road to advance to the state quarterfinals.
A win Friday, and the Pirates, who haven’t played since a 20-0 loss to Seminole County on Nov. 2, advance straight to the quarterfinals under the GHSA’s new Class A playoff format that separates the public and private schools. Instead of 32 teams in the Class A tournament, there are separate public and private brackets with 16 teams each — and each school was seeded based on a convoluted power-rating point system that awards teams seeds based on a number of different criteria.
Killingsworth said he was happy to advance to the playoffs for the sixth year in a row, but he still has mixed feelings on the power-rating format.
“Do I wish we were all together? I don’t know,” Killingsworth said. “I have opinions both ways. The only thing I really don’t like about the system right now is the idea of the points. They just need to tweak the power-rating system.”
For Killingsworth, postseason success is just as special with or without the private schools in the mix.
“I had a coach tell me recently that a state championship is a state championship,” Killingsworth said. “It’s not going to say ‘public’ or ‘private.’ It’s going to say, ‘GHSA State Champions’ on that ring. The trophies will say the same thing.”
Killingsworth and the Pirates aren’t even talking about the private schools’ state tournament. Right now, it’s all about stopping the Warriors and their passing attack.
And Miller County’s sixth-year coach thinks he knows the secret to stopping Whipple.
“We will need to work a lot of pass rush and keep them contained. We are going to try to throw different coverages against them,” he said. “And our secondary has been playing well. We hope that with good, solid secondary play and responsible (pass) rushing, that we will be able to do something with them.”
Brandon Benton, Alvin Hooker and Jacolby Jones play in Miller County’s secondary, while defensive linemen Sisson, Jackson Fleet, Jakell Rosebrough and Alex Anderson will also be key.
“We’ve never seen a team that throws this much,” said Sisson, who also plays on the offensive line. “On offense, we just have to keep the ball away from them and win the time of possession.”
The Pirates will also need to find the end zone.
Luckily, they have a running back who has become pretty accustomed to that.
Led by Marvin Grant, a hard, tough-nosed runner who has posted several 200-plus-yard games this season, the Pirates can grind out yards and drives with the best of them. Miller has 21 rushing TDs this season — and Grant, who has rushed for a little more than 1,000 yards this year in his senior season, has accounted for 10 of those. The rest of the offensive workload is split up between sophomore Rod Williams (5 TDs) and senior Jacolby Jones (2 TDs rushing, 3 receiving), who has 450 receiving yards this season.
The winner of Friday night’s game will likely travel to No. 1 seed Lincoln County in the quarterfinals.