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PREVIEW: Westwood one win away from third straight state title game appearance

Westwood coach Ross Worhsham's team is on the verge of its third straight GISA state crown.

Westwood coach Ross Worhsham's team is on the verge of its third straight GISA state crown.

Looking Ahead

WHO: Brentwood (7-5) at Westwood (10-2).

WHAT: GISA Class AA state playoffs, semifinals

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday.

WHERE: Camilla.

LIVE UPDATES: twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports

CAMILLA— Here we go again.

It’s Thanksgiving week, and Westwood’s Wildcats are trying to win another state title.

What are they even doing here?

The Westwood Wonders were supposed to be a decent team when they moved up from GISA Class A to Class AA, but no one expected this.

Here they are, playing Brentwood in the Class AA state semifinals at home Friday night in the Wood Yard, where they’ve won 20 in a row.

“Some people didn’t think we would make it this far, didn’t think we could hang with the big schools,’’ junior running back J.T. Edore said. “We knew it would be tough playing AA schools. People didn’t think we would be good enough to play at this level, but we just picked it up.’’

Nobody knows about winning in the playoffs like Westwood, where the Wildcats went 26-0 and won back-to-back Class A state titles before making the move to AA his season. Edore, a junior, has never lost a playoff game, and he played like it last week against Edmund Burke in Westwood’s second-round win on the road. Edmund Burke wasn’t just the home team, it was the two-time Class AA state runner-up.

Westwood opened the season and made a statement immediately by beating defending AA state champ Piedmont, but then it saw the 27-game winning streak end the next week against Stratford, which is playing in the Class AAA state semis Friday against Deerfield for the second year in a row.

Westwood is now 10-2 after beating Briarwood, 35-0, in the opening round and knocking off Edmond Burke, 35-20, on the road last week.

Edore had a monster game, rushing for 227 yards on 23 carries and scoring four touchdowns. Chason Worsham ran for 132 yards on just 13 carries and scored a touchdown as the Wildcats pounded the ball all night.

“It was a typical J.T. game in the playoffs,’’ Westwood coach Ross Worsham said. “He really brings it to another level. It seems to be that way with him. I’m glad he’s doing it now. He’s doing it at the right time.’’

Edore said everybody is playing at a another level.

“We knew it’s time to step up and play,’’ Edore said. “Everybody played a good game. The O-line opened up the holes for me. They were great.

“We know we have to peak at the right time of the season and keep performing and keep getting better every week. And we have to play our best game in the last game.’’

That’s what Westwood did the past two seasons, marching to back-to-back titles and winning the championship game convincingly both years. The Wildcats are 36-2 since the 2009 season.

The kids and coaches said they saw a difference on the field last week.

“I think we played our best game of the year last Friday,’’ the coach said. “We challenged them to take it to another level, and they responded. They played with a lot of heart and intensity. It’s time to start peaking and play every play like it’s the last play in the world. It’s a one-game season every time we play now.’’

That’s been Worsham’s message to his kids for the last three years.

“We get more intense in the playoffs,’’ said Dylan Larkin, who is a four-year starter at center. “The drive to win is a lot more.’’

It shows in the playoffs, and it’s another reason the Westwood kids never paid any attention to the AA bracket at the beginning of this year’s playoff run. They just want to win another state championship.

“Winning on Friday and getting to the state title game would be huge,’’ Larkin said. “People didn’t think we would do that well at the beginning of the year. We’ve still got two games to play to show we’re good enough.’’

They different look right now.

Edore said you can see it in the warmups. “Everyboy is hopping,’’ he said. “Everybody is ready to play. It’s the playoffs. It’s win or go home. There’s extra adrenaline, and more excitement.’’

Even on the field, it’s there.

“You can see it in the huddle,’’ quarterback Mitch Good said. “Everybody is more serious. We all know what it’s like to win. We have the experience (from the two state title runs) and we expect to win.’’

Westwood’s defensive unit will have its hands full. Brentwood won the last two Class AA state track & field state titles.

“They’ve got a lot of speed,’’ said Westwood defensive coordinator Earl Ford, who also coaches Westwood's track & field program, where his girls won another title last spring while his boys finished second in the Class A state meet. “And they have good athletic kids on the line of scrimmage who can do a lot of things, and they’re very innovative.’’

Brentwood was a No. 4 seed, but beat top-seeded Piedmont, which lost its 1,000-yard tailback to an injury before the playoffs began, 17-0, and then beat Gatewood, 37-7 last week to advance to the state semifinals.

The last two years, Westwood was preparing for the state title game on the week of Thanksgiving.

“We like practicing on Thanksgiving Day,’’ Ross Worsham said. “In the past it’s meant we were playing for the state championship. This year it’s for the right to play for the state championship.’’

If Westwood wins the Wildcats will have to travel to play for the title against the winner of the Valwood-Milledge game. Worsham said it didn’t matter to him which team won. He knows how important Friday’s game is to his players.

“It’s their last home game,’’ Worsham said of his seniors. “There’s just a lot to play for. I think our (experience) is worth a lot. You have some teams who hardly ever get to the playoffs, so it means a lot. We’ve gotten where we expected to be.’’